Is it time for French-style Mayors?

Reading this month’s New Transit magazine brought home the importance of the position of Mayor in countries such as France and the US in delivering local transport investment. Until recently the role of Mayor in England has been mainly a ceremonial one but in this Millennium it has been reinvigorated in a number of locations by changes in Local Government legislation. None more so than in London where we have had two larger than life characters, Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson, take on the job.

Both have stamped their individuality on London’s transport policies, at the same time sending out subliminal political messages.

Ken saw the only way to get quick wins in transport was to invest in buses and lots of them. London buses are of course red and they operate over a large network of bus lanes which also happen to be red.

With the election of Boris, attention turned away from buses to bicycles and the creation of cycle super highways that just happen to involve painting large parts of London’s core road network blue.  Boris also took exception to the removal of the River Thames from the latest edition of London Underground map (after other people complained first – Boris had actually tweeted the original Thames free map) and demanded its restatement – the Thames of course is also shown as blue, despite being very brown in real life.

So, both Mayors have implemented policies which coincidentally involve painting large parts of London in their political colours. I’m not sure which of the Liberal Democrats policies would require painting large parts of London yellow but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was one.

Seriously, the role of Mayor with the right responsibilities and access to funding shows how local transport, that meet local needs, can be speedily delivered and to this extent at least there is a lot to be learnt from the French Mayoral system.


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