Fix the 53: Greenwich councillors turn bus motion into political squabble

A 53 to Lambeth North

Greenwich councillors passed a motion last night calling on Transport for London to restore the 53 bus service to Whitehall – but added digs at Tory mayor Boris Johnson at the same time.

The bus has been running short from Plumstead to Lambeth North since a short-notice “temporary” closure in January to allow for roadworks at Westminster Bridge.

Even though the Westminster works have long been completed, TfL is continuing to curtail services at Lambeth North, insisting the cut is needed because of roadworks at Elephant & Castle and Lewisham.

Following a petition from the Charlton Society, which you can still sign, Conservative leader Matt Hartley proposed a motion calling on the council to demand the route is fully reinstated.

He noted efforts from both parties on the council, plus the Liberal Democrats at City Hall, to get the service restored. “It’s clear to me that Transport for London has got this operational decision wrong,” he said.

But Greenwich’s regeneration and transport cabinet member Danny Thorpe proposed a rival motion, stripping out the credit to the Charlton Society and inserting a dig at the rise in bus fares since Johnson became mayor in 2008.

“A single trip on that bus costs 67 percent more than it did when the mayor of London took office, and now passengers are suffering delays, diversions and curtailments,” he said.

“Residents deserve a mayor who will spend less time insulting black cab drivers and more time delivering benefits for Londoners,” he added, before criticising the Conservatives for reawarding the local rail franchise to Southeastern last year (worth nothing here that Labour awarded Southeastern its first franchise when it was reprivatised in 2006).

Then Plumstead councillor Matt Morrow criticised the Conservatives for bringing the motion, asking why they couldn’t deal with a Tory mayor. “I ask members to have some sympathy for the Conservatives, who find themselves impotent on this issue,” he said.

Woolwich Common councillor David Gardner and Charlton representative Allan MacCarthy stuck to the issue. “This is nothing more than an attack on the working poor who depend on this bus, and on south-east London,” Gardner said, branding the cut “a cheap cost-cutting measure” by TfL.

Responding for the Tories, Eltham South councillor Matt Clare said to laughter, “I can assure Cllr Morrow that we’re not impotent over here”, before criticising the Labour amendment, adding: “This is about getting the bus back to Whitehall. Not about whether you like the current mayor.”

Wrapping up for Labour, Danny Thorpe said there was “no point getting angry about partisan politics”, adding that Hartley could have approached Labour privately to propose a joint motion.

In the end, the Labour motion was passed, calling on TfL to restore the route to Whitehall, but adding: “A single trip on the 53 bus will now cost £1.50, a 67 percent increase than when the Mayor took office in 2008. The curtailment of this route does not represent a fair deal for residents of Greenwich.”

The Charlton Society’s petition can still be signed at Change.org.

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