A few weeks ago, a story broke in the London Evening Standard regarding the performance of the London Underground since Boris Johnson entered office. The story followed a claim by ex-Mayor of London Ken Livingston that reliability of the Tube has degraded significantly since he left office.
Livingston’s team told Johnson to “get a grip” on the Underground, after they claimed a huge increased in station closures and delays. Johnson’s team responded by accusing Livingston of “cherry picking” figures from a period when industrial action was abundant. A TfL spokesman agreed (naturally) with the Mayor:
These figures are completely wrong, as they compare one month which was disrupted by strike action with another [a year before] which was not
To quote the infamous maxim of Homer Simpson: “Statistics can be used to prove anything.” I did not believe either side was entirely right and attempt to find out had the Tube worsened, improved or simply stayed the same since Johnson entered office? As I have analysed TfL data before, I assumed it would be a case of downloading a spreadsheet and fiddling with the figures. Think again.
The data is thankfully publically available but not in an easily downloadable format. Pretty bar charts are used to represent the performances of escalators, lifts and trains in service while awkward tables are used for station closures, journey times, delays as well as entry and exit figures.
To make matters worse, only a month-by-month view is available at one glance for each metric. To compile a spread sheet of the past 12 months, a large amount of clicks and head scratching are figure to just find the data. Judging by the design of this page, it is likely it precedes the open data policy of the current government and was designed for glancing at a certain period.
I started to copy and past the information across but eventually lost the will. Thankfully, Factcheck has more patience and has undertaken the heavy work. This blog post shows their analysis of the data and in conclusion, they said:
While there is much more work which could be done tracing these trends all the way back to the start of the data in 2002, it is clear that any negative impact Boris Johnson’s policies may have had on the tube service is on these metrics quite limited.
The figures selected by Labour do check out, but do not tell the complete story. While there is a debate to be had about the extent to which the Mayor can bear responsibility for the union strikes which coincide with some the spikes in the graph, it should not be claimed that this represents a sustained trend for Boris’ mayoralty.
So, it appears both sides were correct. All of figures used by both sides is genuine and correct, just chosen for political persuasion. As many Greek theologians would say, listen to Homer.