Earlier this week, we published a blog comparing Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson’s track record on the London Underground.

This was after the TSSA union-backed campaign group Sack Boris handed out election leaflets at Tube stations claiming: “Fares might be soaring, but the service is plummeting! Delays and line closures have become a daily part of Londoners’ lives.”

We wanted to check whether the Tube had really got worse under Boris, and we looked at four Transport for London statistics on delays and closures, available here (under “performance data almanac” near the bottom of the page). Here’s what we found:     

Boris was marginally ahead on station closures, and significantly ahead on all the other three measures. There were more than a million more lost passenger hours per month on average under Ken than under Boris.

Ken’s press team weren’t happy, and they have since contacted us to make several complaints about our analysis. We’ll try to answer them one by one.

1) “The article does not take account or refer to the terrorist bombings in 2005 in the figures. If they are included then there were fewer, not more, station closures on average under Ken, and the gap on Lost Customer Hours narrows very considerably to approx 3.1 vs 2.8. The gap in the other two categories is also reduced significantly.”

It’s true that there is a spike in the figures around the time of the July 7 terror attacks, and that we initially decided against trying to strip out those figures.

We thought that it would be difficult to assess exactly what effect the bombings had on the Underground network. And what about other unusual events outside the Mayor’s control, like spells of extreme bad weather? Should we remove other spikes too?

For the sake of argument, if we remove the accounting periods that cover July 7 and the weeks immediately afterwards (periods 4 and 5 in the 2005/06) financial year from our calculations, Here’s what happens:

(Boris’s figures have been updated to include the latest performance results from period 9, which came out after our first blog.)

Boris is now marginally behind on station closures, but he still beats Ken by a significant margin in the other categories. The difference in lost passenger hours is just under a million a month (Ken’s team quote some very different figures in their email but they don’t tally with our numbers).

2) “It appears that Boris Johnson has effectively ‘cooked the books’, changing the timetable so that journeys are scheduled to take longer anyway, which means TfL statistics then show excess waiting times etc have come down.” 

A pretty serious accusation – which TfL refutes in the strongest terms. We have asked Ken’s team to provide us with evidence to back up this claim.

3) “Strikes are up significantly under Boris Johnson – I’m not sure why it is fair to exclude strikes when there are plenty of other factors you could potentially exclude (including severe weather).”

We preferred TfL’s figures for excess journey time excluding industrial action because we didn’t want to get into a political argument about who is to blame for strikes on the Underground.

Opponents of Boris Johnson might see it as a failure on his part if there are more strikes, whereas others might accuse the unions of deliberately picking more fights with Boris because they support Ken. FactCheck doesn’t take a view on this.

However, we’re happy to provide the figures for excess journey time that include industrial action, since Ken’s team insist.

They show that the measure was still significantly better on average under Boris, even though he had more strikes to contend with. The average was 7.64 minutes delay for Ken versus 6.39 minutes for Boris. If we strip the 7/7 period out as well, Ken’s figure improves slightly, falling to 7.57 minutes.

Ken’s spokespeople also asked us to point out that TfL’s board is appointed and chaired by the Mayor “and has a clear interest in delivering and then defending the Mayor’s record on transport”.

The verdict

Essentially, Ken’s people want to make the point that dramatic events outside either Mayor’s control could have disrupted the Tube network from time to time, causing statistical blips.

They are also suspicious of TfL’s figures, since the authority is under the control of the Mayor. That’s fair enough, but if they really are accusing London’s transport chiefs of cooking the books, we think it’s up to them to prove it.

And they are insisting that we include the effects of strikes in the figures. That’s also perfectly reasonable – but the results don’t help Ken very much.

We stand by our analysis and note that, even with changes suggested by Ken’s team, Boris still beats him overall on Tube performance.

By Patrick Worrall