Under both Ken and Boris the board – with a few honourable exceptions – has been too much of a rubber stamp, committed to little more than ensuring the mayor gets his way, so schemes and policies have tended to get nodded through with little objective scrutiny.
Ken’s see-sawing fares changes never seemed to hit much turbulence when they went to the board for discussion and no-one during the Boris era questioned the continued orders for a bus which was causing severe discomfort to passengers.
But one of the board’s most significant failures – and the clearest sign that it wasn’t on the side of farepayers – was its abject failure to publicly criticise managers who endlessly press released that Barclays had doubled its cycling sponsorship despite having no contact committing the bank to pay up.
In pretty much any other public or private organisation such failure would’ve been investigated by the board and senior heads would’ve been at risk of a lopping off.
But at TfL there was deafening silence and it was left to Assembly Members to make the necessary fusses. Such indulgence of management and mayors by the board cannot continue.
Transport will of course always be at the core of what TfL does. But over this mayoral term the agency will become increasingly focussed on its commercial activities and property development as it looks to boost non-fares revenue and help deliver the mayor’s housing commitments.
And even in its central transport role, how TfL engages with passengers and farepayers is changing.
The move away from paper ticketing puts it at the forefront of the UK’s wider shift towards a cashless society while the need for cycle hire users, contactless card holders and Oyster users to interact with it online makes the agency a very sizeable ecommerce retailer.
To competently oversee these changes in focus and interaction, the board needs to include fewer mayoral mates determined to nod through schemes which later cost taxpayers money to put right, and a lot more expertise from relevant sectors.
Luckily the new mayor appears to understand this.
During the election he told me that the body needed “expertise in finance, in tech, in customer service, in addressing the issue of safety on public transport and in revenue streams” in order to properly deliver for Londoners.
Hopefully Sadiq and his deputy also recognise that it’s time to end the gimmicky appointments of special interest groups. Private hire operators and the black cab trade are important stakeholders but they have no place around the board table. Ditto for cyclists who have been clamouring for a seat.
As TfL has confirmed to me, members cannot vote on issues in which they have a vested interest so appointing people on £18k a year only to force them into silence when their specialist topic comes up for discussion ultimately helps no-one.
Instead of including tokenistic, PR-based appointments, the newly constituted board should improve how it consults with key stakeholder groups – something it should do separately to TfL’s management – and invite them to speak at meetings when issues affecting them are being discussed.
This is not revolutionary stuff – the old Met Police Authority used to give members of the public and stakeholders the chance to address it and the fire authority allows the London Fire Brigades Union to speak at its meetings.
If the Khan-era TfL is to successfully deliver the (in some cases, long overdue) changes forced on it by government spending cuts and the mayor’s fares freeze, he and Val need to leave gimmicky appointments and jobs for mayoral mates in the past and instead fill their board with world-class experts from who managers can learn.