Motorists Fuming and Heathrow Expansion

The SUN newspaper has reported on the concerns of London drivers over the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) under the headline “FUMING!”. The article says that London diesel motorists will have to buy a new car or face paying thousands in a new pollution tax – see https://www.thesun.co.uk/motors/8241278/motorists-new-car-pollution-tax/ . The article includes good quotes from me and from Howard Cox, Gareth Bacon and Shaun Bailey.

Interesting to note that TfL previously claimed that the capital cost of extending the ULEZ to the North/South Circular was £38 million. But it seems that TfL Manager Paul Cowperthwaite is now suggesting it could be between £90 million and £130 million. On a cost/benefit analysis that will make it even more uneconomic than was even forecast previously (see our previous articles on that issue). Mr Cowperthwaite’s comments about the alleged air quality crisis and his estimate of what it costs are just figments of his imagination that bear no relation to reality. As I am quoted in the SUN article, “The ULEZ is a giant con to raise more taxes to fix the Mayor’s budget problems”.

A big contributor to air pollution, particularly in west London is from aircraft landing and taking off at Heathrow airport. The airport is planning to increase the number of such aircraft numbers even prior to their proposed construction of a third runway. They plan to do this by using new technology to alternate runway use. This could mean an additional 25,000 flights per year with the associated pressure on the road network as most passengers arrive via vehicles.

It may also mean more aircraft noise affected more London residents as landing and take-off flight paths will change. There will still be no ban on night flights that disturb residents. Will the Mayor and TfL be objecting? I hope so.

See https://afo.heathrowconsultation.com/ for more information and to respond to the public consultation.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Unblock Meeting, Bank Junction, Moor Lane and Sadiq Khan’s Antics

Yesterday I attended a meeting of the Unblock the Embankment Group (see https://unblocktheembankment.co.uk/ ). This was a group formed to oppose the closure of the Embankment and Lower/Upper Thames Street route for 6 months, a key east-west route through London, for the construction of a new Super Sewer. It seems they were successful in that regard. But they are now focussed on trying to persuade TfL and the City Corporation to reroute the Cycle Superhighway (CS3) to relieve the congestion on that route. There were representatives of the City Corporation at the meeting including Chris Hayward who chairs the Planning and Transportation Committee. He actually said in the meeting that CS3 has unquestionably made congestion worse, with which I don’t think anyone would disagree. Journey times across London (e.g. City to Westminster and back) have increased very substantially and there are no good alternative routes.

One issue raised was that cyclists on the CS3 superhighway have to suffer the high pollution levels when it is known that pollution levels on Upper/Lower Thames Street are some of the worst in London and exceed legal limits. Cyclists might prefer an alternative route and bearing in mind that the City Corporation is planning to improve cycle routes through the City as part of its Transport Strategy, it was suggested that the CS3 could be relocated. Naturally that would require some funding (perhaps £10 million) but it seems HM Treasury might provide some funds to improve traffic flows in London. But will the Mayor of London and TfL support such a move even if funding is available?

Has CS3 reduced accidents to cyclists? It was noted that it has not.

The City Corporation’s Transport Strategy was discussed and there have been many thousands of responses to their public consultation on that – which is more than expected. The ABD promoted responses among our supporters so perhaps we helped in that regard. The consultation has now closed and it’s too early to give any analysis of responses. It might be March/April before a report is published.

One aspect of the Transport Strategy is the proposed 15 mph speed limit across the City, but it was acknowledged that this would require legislation, i.e. the City Corporation cannot impose without an Act of Parliament.

With more cycle routes in the City and closure of Bank Junction, even more traffic might be diverted to Upper/Lower Thames Street, making congestion and air pollution even worse.

There was some discussion of air pollution trends on the CS3 route, and in London as a whole, on which data seemed to be limited. Incidentally a new initiative on that is to equip Google’s Street View cars with air pollution sensors. This would enable a real time and very localised view of pollution to be obtained. There will also be more fixed sensors attached to lampposts and buildings to obtain even more data.

Of course the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is forcing all taxis to become zero emission capable (hybrid/electric) in the near future but surprisingly there are still no electric charging points for taxis in the City. TfL are dragging their feet on providing it seems.

There was some discussion on the closure of Bank Junction, and proposals for a zero-emission limit for vehicles on Moor Lane in the Barbican. The City Corporation have now published a report on longer-term proposals for Bank Junction that includes three suggested options – total pedestrianisation, pedestrian priority with some vehicle movement, and thirdly retaining existing vehicle movements. Option 2 includes closure of some of the “arms” of the junction which seems eminently sensible – see illustration provided below – you can see other ones in the Committee Reports obtainable from here: https://tinyurl.com/y96stsvu

bank junction option 2

But there is still a commitment to turning this key road junction into a “place” and reducing vehicles to improve road safety so it is not at all clear whether even the third option would support taxi movements.

Another subject briefly discussed was the proposal to close Moor Lane to all vehicles other than zero emission ones. Apparently there was a majority of respondents opposed to the scheme in a public consultation (see the Committee Report mentioned above). Confusion between that and TfL’s ULEZ scheme was one objection. What was the response of the City Corporation? They are not dropping the proposal, but intend to either go-ahead of simply postpone it. As I commented in the meeting, will the City Corporation and its elected members actually take account of responses to the public consultation on the City’s Transport Strategy? To date they have not shown any willingness to listen.

Is Sadiq Khan responding to the air pollution concerns that he spends so much time talking about? Amusingly there was a report on the Guido Fawkes web site (which is usually accurate) saying that his official vehicle is a 4.4 litre BMW on which the MOT has expired. Not exactly environmentally friendly as Guido pointed out.

Meanwhile the Mayor continues to spend money as if it’s going out of fashion on public relations and social media consultants. That includes promoting his views on Brexit very vigorously and Guido also revealed that the Mayor had given £20,000 to a group called “The3million” representing EU citizens in the UK who want to stop Brexit. The Mayor continues to waste money while interfering in national politics rather than sticking to his job of Mayor of London.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Air Pollution on the Underground Worse Than Above Ground

The latest report from COMEAP (the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants) shows that travelling on the London Underground may be dangerous to your health.

The air in the London Underground infrastructure is high in PM (particulates, i.e. fine dust). This is because of the generation of dust caused by the friction action of train brakes on wheels and wheels on rails, combined with dust generated by the clothes, hair and skin of the millions of people, in close proximity to each other, using the system. One hour on the underground, a typical exposure time for commuters, is equivalent to standing on one of the busiest London roads for the whole day. The deepest underground lines such as the Northern Line are apparently a particular problem.

This problem has been known about for many years – for example the Institute of Occupational Health reported on the problem in 2003 but very little has been done about it since. Cleaning of some stations and tunnels was tried in 2017 but it was shown that cleaning stations alone had little effect and the exercise seems not to have been repeated.

Little research seems to have been done on the impact of underground workers such as train drivers, although there are filters in drivers cabs which might assist.

Another issue is that the composition of underground dust is somewhat different with high levels of metals such as iron compounds and it is not known if that makes it better or worse in terms of health impacts. The COMEAP paper reports conflicting evidence on that issue. As a result although they conclude there is likely to be some health risk they are unable to quantify it. They encourage TfL to undertake more measurements and more studies on this problem.

Comment: I suggest the Mayor of London imposes a new tax on underground trains to tackle this problem as he has done on road vehicles. Indeed he should probably tax underground passengers to encourage them to walk and cycle instead – you know it will be good for you!

But as the Mayor and TfL run the underground and would have to suffer the taxes, don’t expect this to happen anytime soon.

For the COMEAP report in full, go here: https://tinyurl.com/y7phkqyy

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Profits from the ULEZ – Taxes, Taxes and More Taxes

I have covered previously the likely extra income from the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) scheme in London – see articles on this web page: https://tinyurl.com/y9sgwedh – particularly the one named “Cost of the ULEZ”.

Transport for London (TfL) tried to hide the likely income from the scheme and what figures they did eventually disclose grossly under-estimated the likely profits they would make. But the Guardian and the Times newspapers have recently published more information that is very revealing of the true facts.

The Guardian quote TfL as saying that “it projects that in 2019-20, the first year of the ULEZ, revenue will be £174m and costs £47m, producing a surplus of £127m. TfL are suggesting revenue will rise to £222m giving a profit of only £97m in 2021-22, after increased costs, when the ULEZ zone is greatly expanded to within the North/South Circular. That would seem to assume that a very large proportion of affected vehicle owners (e.g. those with older diesel or very old petrol ones) will have bought newer vehicles by then. It is a surprisingly low estimate given the very much larger number of vehicle owners who use them daily in the London suburbs as opposed to those who drive in central London. It again seems incredible.

As pointed out in the aforementioned article, apart from the approximately £200 million that will be taken out of the London economy and out of the pockets of London residents by the ULEZ charges every year for the next few years, there is also the cost incurred by those people who buy newer replacement vehicles. That is estimated at £203 million.

The Times spelled out exactly how many vehicles are likely to be affected by the ULEZ this year. They reported that TfL said there were 1.5 million diesel cars registered before 2016 which entered the central zone last year, some 500,000 petrol cars registered before 2006, some 400,000 vans, 55,000 HGVs and 10,000 coaches.

You can see that these are really enormous numbers and explain why the Mayor is so keen on using the ULEZ to improve London’s air. His latest claim is for a reduction of 45% in NOX in central London and 40% in the surrounding area with further reductions when the ULEZ is expanded in 2021. But there is no clear evidence that NOX has a significant impact on health (even COMEAP seem uncertain).

I suggest the ULEZ scheme is a giant con to raise more taxes to fix the Mayor’s budget problems. There is no major public health crisis in London as he alleges. Just to remind you, the health benefit was valued in the original consultation document on the ULEZ as being £7.1 million over 5 years. Even if one accepts that estimate which is very dubious, how does that justify a total cost imposed on vehicle owners of as much as £1.2 billion over 5 years? It cannot be.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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TfL’s Business Plan and Budgets – Financial Profligacy

The Mayor of London has published a Business Plan for TfL for the next five years plus a Budget for 2018/19– see https://tfl.gov.uk/corporate/publications-and-reports/business-plan. The Business Plan is much as outlined in his adopted Transport Strategy so he aims to get the proportion of journeys taken by walking, cycling or public transport up to 65% by 2024 when it’s about 63% today. That’s despite the recent lack of progress in achieving that goal as highlighted in our previous article on London travel trends here: https://tinyurl.com/ybtchctj

For east Londoners he is committing to progress that vanity project called the Rotherhithe bridge, but there should be new Woolwich ferry boats delivered in 2019, progress on the Silvertown Tunnel and the document mentions a budget for “renewal” of the Rotherhithe Tunnel.

But the bad news for all Londoners is that the Mayor intends that TfL will continue to run a big financial deficit until 2021. That date does of course coincide with the expansion of the ULEZ zone to the North/South Circular which will be providing more income and also the Elizabeth Line (Crossrail) should also be in operation by then which will also assist. There is a small surplus budgeted for in 2022/23.

Another item of bad news for all Londoners is that “proactive” street maintenance budgets will remain at zero so we will see more short-term and reactive patching. This is surely a short-sighted financial approach. Has the Mayor not heard of the phrase “a stitch in time saves nine”.

The delays to Crossrail and falling bus usage have been two causes of the short-term deficits but the Mayor continues to hobble himself with the promise he made to freeze public transport fares so as to get elected. The Mayor claims to have reduced “like-for-like” operating costs in the last two years but that is a claim that is difficult to verify and overall income/costs are what matter.

One consequence of this financial ineptitude is that TfL are having to borrow more money. Debt has been, and will continue to rise rapidly based on the budgets. It will be 175% of revenue in 2018/19 (revenue not profits note), and financing costs will be 7.5% of revenue in that year. That does not look like a sound financial strategy to anyone familiar with the financial world. The Mayor is just in the process of building up a big problem for his successor.

What is remarkable about the two aforementioned documents is the lack of detail on where the Mayor is actually spending money, e.g. the proposed capital expenditure. We just get headline titles such as £116 million to be spent on “Healthy Streets”, £80 million on “Air Quality”, £114 million on “Public Transport”, etc. There is also little detail on operational income and expenditure. The budget for 2018/19 has to be approved by the London Assembly and there is a bit more detail in this version submitted to them: https://tinyurl.com/y78cjoyq

So for example it shows (on page 37) that the introduction of the ULEZ (for central London only in 2019) will cost around £40 million. But the revenue from it seems to be just dumped into “other income” so it is impossible to evaluate the cost versus benefit of it.

Here are some simple questions one could ask that are not answered by these documents such as:

  • How much money is being spent on Cycle Superhighways, Quietways and other cycle projects?
  • How much does the Santander Cycle Hire scheme cost to run, or does it make a profit? What is being invested in expansion of that scheme?
  • How much is TfL spending on funding wide-area 20 mph schemes in local boroughs?
  • What will be the real costs and income from the ULEZ, both before and after expansion?

There is simply insufficient detail provided to answer these questions. These documents do not provide enough financial detail to judge the merits of the Mayor’s plans at all. One suspects a lot of dubious projects and expenditure are being concealed in these public relations documents.

But there is one thing for certain. There is no budget to improve the road network in London so as to increase capacity and reduce traffic congestion. With London’s population expanding, that is serious omission.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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London Travel Trends – Mayor’s Policies Failing Badly

London’s population is still growing rapidly, albeit the rate of growth has slackened slightly of late. That increases the demand for travel in London. A recently published report from Transport for London (TfL) highlights the trends in travel in different modes – see below for a link to the full report. Here’s some of the key points:

The average number of trips per day in 2017/18 was 2.1. That figure has been falling in recent years and is similar to national trends. It probably reflects the difficulties of travel in the UK and in London, the higher cost, the fact that the population is ageing and the increase in remote working and telecommuting.

From 2010 to 2017 the proportion of trips by walking, cycling and public transport in London increased only slightly from 62.6% to 62.7%. The trend to more “sustainable and active” travel modes has actually flattened out in the latest 2 years. In other words, the recent Mayoral policies to get people to change their travel modes to what he wants has been a dismal failure. But the Mayor is not giving up. The Mayor and TfL still believe there is a large scope for mode shift according to the report, but that is surely a figment of their imagination. Based on the data below, the Mayor will no doubt be focussed on getting those who live in outer London to change their ways – you have been warned!

Road traffic in London increased only slightly by 0.1% in 2017. There was no growth in car traffic but LGVs rose by 1.9% probably due to more internet shopping deliveries. The general trend in car traffic levels in London is shown in this chart:

car traffic levels 2017

This probably reflects improved public transport (e.g. more buses that have been heavily subsidised and more underground/rail/tram/DLR services) and the degradation of the road network with fewer and more expensive parking facilities, particularly in central London, in the last 20 years. But note the relatively lower decline in outer London and the fact that since 2013 the decline has ceased in all areas.

The Congestion Charge (a.k.a. tax) in central London is not the cause of the reduction there because inner London has also shown sharp declines to which the Charge does not apply. It might have more to do with increased congestion and hence higher trip times in central and inner London for the reasons given above.

Both bus journeys and underground usage have been falling – bus trips down by 6.5% in 2017 since 2014, and underground trips fell by 1.1% in 2017 although that had grown in previous years. These figures reflect perhaps the high costs of public transport, the overcrowding on the underground and on some bus routes in rush hours and the fact that bus journey times have been slowing due to traffic congestion. It can simply be quicker to walk in central London!

Cycling figures suggest that numbers of trips were unchanged in 2017, but distances travelled were greater suggesting there are more long-distance cycling commuters and more trips in outer London. This might be the result of economic incentives to cycle as public transport fares increased (particularly national rail serving outer London) and more cycle superhighways. Cycle usage as a proportion of overall trips remains low at 2% however despite the massive investment in cycle infrastructure in recent years. Cycling is still relatively unpopular among the elderly, among females and those of a non-white or mixed- race background according to the report.

Walking trip rates have been in decline in London in recent years despite the Mayor’s policies. Young adult walk rates fell by 22% between 2011/12 and 2017/18 for example. The impact of “healthy streets” and “active travel” policies promoted by the Mayor are conspicuously absent from the data in TfL’s report. Free travel passes both for those in education and for the elderly have clearly had a negative impact on walking rates. If the Mayor is serious about encouraging more active travel, that’s surely one hand-out he should cancel.

As an aside, the recent introduction of 16-17 and 26-30 railcards has been promoted as a generous offering to help the young, but is it not just another way to charge less to more impecunious customers and more to the others? Anyone familiar with economics will know that this is a tactic to maximise profits. In the case of railcards, which have time of travel restrictions, it’s also a way to smooth out travel demand and fill those otherwise empty seats at off-peak times.

Another failing Mayoral policy has been that on improving road safety. In 2017 the number of fatalities actually increased to 131 – up 15 on 2016. There were marked increases in pedestrian and cyclist casualties. Overall KSIs also rose in 2017 (by 2%) although that figure might be distorted by changes in casualty reporting. The roll-out of wide area 20 mph zones financed with many millions of pounds of funding from TfL and which was supposed to have a major impact on pedestrian casualties has clearly been every ineffective.

In relation to improved public transport capacity to serve the growing population, that simply did not happen in 2017 – “place kilometres” remained unchanged. That’s surely another Mayoral policy failure and resulted in higher public transport overcrowding. But service reliability on buses and London underground plus DLR/trams did improve. Surface rail was patchy though.

The full London Travel Report Number 11 can be read here: http://content.tfl.gov.uk/travel-in-london-report-11.pdf . It looks like it’s been written by public relations consultants as it presents a positive spin on the data when any detailed reading tells you a very different story.

But in summary it shows how the policies pursued by Transport for London, and by both the current and previous Mayors, have been a dismal failure. Lots of expenditure on the promotion of cycling and walking have not influenced travel behaviour much while expenditure on road safety has been misdirected with negative consequences. Improvements in public transport infrastructure have failed to cope with the increase in population which has been promoted rather than discouraged.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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City Corporation Response to Draft Transport Strategy

I have covered the City of London’s draft Transport Strategy before – see https://tinyurl.com/yd3qne6c . I called it a stinker because it is an aggressive attack on most forms of road transport with a 15-mph speed limit proposed across the Square Mile, a zero-emission standard for all vehicles and road closures.

The ABD has now submitted a formal response to the public consultation which covers our objections in detail – see https://tinyurl.com/y8o23l9u

It’s a good example of how the Mayor of London’s Transport Strategy is being followed in the local boroughs and how it is corrupting London’s road transport network. The policies promoted are simply irrational, will not work and fail to cope with the increasing population and business activity in the City.

You can still respond to the public consultation which closes on the 13th January. Go here to do so: https://www.citystreets.london/ or send an email to strategic.transportation@cityoflondon.gov.uk

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