TfL's potty-mouthed Sir Peter Hendy and the power of straight-talking

EDITOR'S BLOG: The public loves the real deal - politicians take note.

by Matthew Gwyther
Last Updated: 21 Jan 2016

MT got a nice scoop yesterday. We found a very senior boss within public service willing to speak his mind and be honest. Politicians on the stump for the next three weeks take note - your public loves the unvarnished truth.

Transport for London boss Sir Peter Hendy told MT that some suburban trains into the capital are ‘shit’ and that their ‘revenue protection’ behaviour - the way they fine even those customers who make genuine mistakes at the drop of a hat - is like the ‘Gestapo.’ Southeastern, the rail operator which runs the services from Kent into London, was his particular target. All hell has broken loose and everyone is expressing amazement at his wild sentiments.

I doubt very much that his ‘outburst’ was not pre-meditated. There is a lot of politics involved here and Hendy hasn’t done a job like his for so long  without developing keen political instincts. He wants more power over train services into London which are, in truth, pretty poorly run at the moment. He can point to cool things like the Victoria Line and Boris bikes to show he can get stuff done. His TfL adverts running in the underground at the moment slyly point out that all the money goes back into the operation because, unlike the private train operators, TfL isn’t profit-making.

He calculated that his statement would not lose him friends and might even add a few to what is probably a smallish list. The point is clear - very, very few members of the travelling public or their own customers have any time for Southeastern and their ilk whatsoever. (I can think of many words I’d use to describe the appalling South West Trains for example and the S word would be one of the milder epithets.) Hendy knows even if he’s jolly rude and uses scatological language he will win admirers as a straight-talking guy who has the customers’ interest at heart.

The problem is he isn’t without sin himself. Fares in London are disgracefully high for what is often a barely adequate service.

And, speaking personally, living as I do in the hell of the Vauxhall/Nine Elms redevelopment zone where every road within a mile is currently being dug up, Hendy takes on too many projects at once. Why is it his contractors are allowed to take 38 weeks over works that could be completed far faster without making the lives of the travelling public a misery?  Our infrastructure including drains and gas pipes is old and knackered, Hammersmith flyover is rotting to bits and as soon as the temperature goes above 25 degrees you get boiled alive on the tube.

But it isn’t just us. I was in Birmingham yesterday and jeez what a total mess the centre of the city is there. Never seen so many navvies staring into holes while leaning on their spades. I suppose it’s the price of success - you can move around Athens quite rapidly these days.

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