With Sir Peter Hendy’s appointment as chair of Network Rail, one of the plum jobs in transport comes onto the market for the first time in almost a decade.
If you’re thinking of applying for the job as London’s transport commissioner, what should be at the top of your agenda?
First up is to remember that you’re only as good as your passengers’ last journey.
If the day-to-day service is poor then people won’t be interested in your exciting plans for new technology, track or trains – as Network Rail has found out to its cost at London Bridge.
Be ready for real-time feedback from friends, family and people you have yet had the fortune to meet.
“Transport is among the unprotected government departments facing significant cuts”
And remember that while every journey matters, nothing will inform the views of the mayor and his team more than their own daily experience.
So take a leaf from Sir Peter’s playbook, whose first act every day was to review network performance and text a personal summary to the mayor and his team to digest over their cornflakes.
Spending review pain and gain
Second will be to deal with the fallout of November’s spending review.
For transport in general the omens are positive, with a chancellor keen to invest in infrastructure in the North and the South.
But there’ll also be pain, with transport among the unprotected government departments facing significant cuts.
Wielding the doctor’s scalpel in place of the woodcutter’s axe will be no mean feat.
Third is to press ahead with the modernisation of London transport.
That means 24-hour services, fewer old-style ticket offices and a more commercial approach to property and retail. But be wary of pushing the unions too far, too fast.
Even with much greater levels of automation, London transport will remain a people-intensive business, so you’ll need to find ways of keeping the workforce on board – challenging and infuriating though that will often be.
Crossrail 2 and further upgrades
Fourth is to maintain momentum behind plans for growth.
This means delivering major projects like Crossrail and the tube upgrades to time and to budget – avoiding the sorts of problems seen with tube signalling on the sub-surface lines and with rail electrification on the national network.
“Be wary of pushing the unions too far, too fast”
It also means building a winning case for the next generation of schemes, headed by Crossrail 2, and mobilising a broad and deep coalition of supporters who are realistic about the need to put their hands in their pockets if a project is to get the go-ahead.
Fifth is to help manage the transition to the next mayor of London.
Over 16 years London has had just two – Boris and Ken – and it’s your job (and privilege) to help write chapter three.
Follow your predecessor in engaging the candidates early on, before they box themselves in on pledges they will come to regret.
And work out how to be a problem-solver, rather than a problem-bringer, in helping the next mayor to double housebuilding levels in the capital to 50,000 a year.
Still fancy it? Then good luck!
David Leam is director of infrastructure policy at London First