London's Underground was the first in the world, and has been integral in helping to develop the city as one of the greatest metropolises on the planet. However, it is fair to say that in recent decades under-investment, and a failure to push forward innovation, has led to a situation where the London Underground gives the impression that, rather than leading the world as a Premier League transit system, it increasingly appears in a lower league.
The Tube is potentially at the mercy of militant trade unionists, holding the travelling public to ransom and demanding inflated pay and conditions that are completely unjustified.
A conservative estimate at the annual wage bill of drivers on the Underground, stands at £141million per annum. Boris Johnson's recent decision to take over the contract of the failing firm TubeLines, effectively ending the awful PPP structure that was foisted on London by Gordon Brown, opens up an ideal opportunity to push for a radical shake up of London's metro, namely to turn the Underground driverless.
The technology for driverless trains is well established, and currently 57 such lines exist across the world in 32 cities and 13 airports. In fact, the Tube has a number of automated lines already, where the driver is little more than a door opener. Both the Victoria and Central lines have automated trains. Under the current planned upgrade of the Tube, lines such as the Jubilee and the Northern will also convert to an automated service.
It is a relatively small step in engineering terms to go further and convert the capital's metro into a fully remote automated system that would not require any drivers on board at all. Driverless systems have an outstanding safety record across the globe. The driverless Docklands Light Railway in London's Docklands had no fatalities recorded in the last year, and only five serious incidents on record. The Underground had one fatality, and in excess of 100 serious incidents reported in the same period.
It is a matter of national embarrassment that the powers that be seem unwilling seriously to entertain the idea of converting to a driverless system on the Tube. Even Sao Paolo in Brazil has just launched its own driverless metro service, yet London, the centre of world finance, continues to operate a lower grade service on the Underground, that lags behind international competition in efficiency and comfort.
I, and my Conservative colleagues in the London Assembly, believe that London's metro should convert to a driverless system. I believe this not just because it could in the long run save money in wages, and break the stranglehold that the likes of union militant Bob Crow has over our transport network, but because it is the right thing to do. It will offer a faster, more efficient and reliable service then the existing one.
Richard Tracey has been Conservative Lead on Transport in the London Assembly since 2008.