Emirates Cable Car, Bike Hire and TfL Finances

The London Evening Standard recently ran an article that suggested the Emirates Cable Car might be sold off or scrapped. The Cable Car runs across the Thames at Greenwich, cost about £60 million to build and opened in 2013. Passenger numbers have been lower than forecast with it mainly being used by tourists. I used it once but it’s a very slow means to get across the Thames at that point, even allowing for delays at the Blackwall Tunnel.

Does it lose money? According to the information provided by a recent FOI Act request, the numbers are as follows for the 12 months to Jan 2017: Income £9.2 million, Operating Costs: £6.0 million. But £3.3 million of the income comes from Emirates Airlines sponsorship under a deal that runs to 2021, so it barely breaks even ignoring the sponsorship money. Why an airline would wish to subsidise this slow and unreliable mode of transport (it frequently breaks down or has to stop in high winds) was never very clear.

On break-even if they don’t renew sponsorship it might be argued it is worth retaining, but obviously the construction cost will never be recovered, and even exceptional maintenance costs might be unaffordable. The Mayor and TfL have some tough decisions to make on this one.

The Standard also suggested that the Santander Bike Hire (formerly Barclays) might be scrapped to save money. It costs £21 million per year to run, of which TfL pays £3.6 million according to the Standard article. It might have encouraged more cycling in London, although users of these bikes are some of the worst behaved cyclists from my observations – perhaps because tourists unfamiliar with London traffic and road rules tend to use them. However, there are now some commercial alternatives who operate a “dockless”, pick up and drop off anywhere system. It might must be that after just a few years the technology is obsolescent.

Both subjects are of course under the spotlight because of the pressure on the Mayor’s Transport Budget where he has seriously miscalculated the funding needs and the impact of his past promises to his electorate. Another aspect that TfL are examining according to an FT article is the exemption from the London Congestion Charge (a.k.a. “tax”) for taxis and PHVs (mini-cabs). The latter have proliferated with such operators as Uber creating a lot more traffic congestion. Why they should be exempt was never very clear, although the argument is perhaps that they offer a public service similar to buses. But it’s not very clear why buses should be exempt either, particularly as they create a lot of congestion.

Bearing in mind the need for the Mayor to raise money, and the fact that he is threatening to cancel Uber’s licence, the expected outcome is surely going to be something like this: Yes we won’t cancel your licence after all but you’ll need to pay the Congestion Charge, or a specially large annual licence fee. Is that a deal?

Roger Lawson

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Silvertown Tunnel – Air Quality Should Be OK

Transport for London (TfL) have published an “Updated Air Quality Assessment” for the Silvertown Tunnel. This is the tunnel proposed to run alongside the Blackwall Tunnel under the Thames in East London – it is urgently required to relieve traffic congestion at the Blackwall Tunnel.

There have been concerns that the additional vehicle capacity might worsen air pollution in Greenwich and also north of the river. It’s already bad because of the queues of traffic that form every morning and evening. But the report’s conclusions are that the Silvertown Tunnel will “not lead to a significant impact on air quality” and nor affect the ability to achieve compliance with the Air Quality Directive.

The Silvertown Tunnel was included in the Mayor’s Transport Strategy but is still subject to a Public Inquiry by the Planning Inspectorate and a decision to go ahead by the Secretary of State which keeps on getting delayed. We might get one in May, but there is still vociferous opposition to this sorely needed new transport link. The earliest date for completion, if given the go-ahead, is likely to be 2023.

More information here: https://tfl.gov.uk/travel-information/improvements-and-projects/silvertown-tunnel where you can see a “drive through” simulation.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Cycle Superhighway 9 – Consultation Results Biased by Cyclists

Transport for London (TfL) have published the results of the public consultation on their proposals for Cycle Superhighway 9. That is to run from Kensington Olympia to Brentford Town Centre.

They got 5,295 public responses, and 93 “stakeholder” responses (typically organisations including the ABD). In terms of overall support for the proposals, they got 59% in support, 38% opposed and 2% undecided. That alone tells you that there was very significant opposition.

But I believe these figures have been distorted by lobbying by cycling groups. Page 22 of the TfL report gives a breakdown of what modes of transport the respondents claim to usually use. It shows 67% used the Tube, 65% Cycle, 50% use a Bus and 56% use a Private Car. These are very high figures for cycling.

In reality, you can see how many people actually cycle in this area by looking at traffic count data published by the Department for Transport. The figures are as follows for two of the boroughs in west London in 2016:

Kensington and Chelsea: Cyclists: 5.8%, Cars/Taxis: 73.4% of all traffic

Hammersmith & Fulham: Cyclists: 4.5%, Cars/Taxis: 74.8% of all traffic

You can see that these are very different figures, and rather demonstrate the likely bias in the results of this consultation. Indeed, TfL received 941 representations alone from supporters of one of the activist cycling organisations, the London Cycling Campaign. TfL makes no attempt in recent consultations to “normalise” the data so that responses are not manipulated and biased by unrepresentative pressure groups.

This is surely one such example.

You can read the Consultation Report here: https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/roads/cs9/ . TfL is currently considering the results but if it is like other similar consultations the scheme is likely to proceed with few changes.

Roger Lawson

Richmond 20-mph Speed Limits – Democracy Abandoned?

The London Borough of Richmond is considering changing its policy on wide-area 20 mph speed limits. Currently it has a policy whereby any area in the borough that desires a 20-mph limit has to submit a petition to the Council, signed by more than 50% of relevant residents. An eminently democratic and sensible policy one might think.

However, a recent council report says that the 15 such petitions submitted since 2014 when the current policy was adopted have consumed a considerable amount of officer time, and that “the requirement for a majority threshold can be difficult to achieve”. Does this not simply mean that it is minority pressure groups that advocate such limits and that the general public (including non-drivers) do not support them?

Regardless the Council is proposing to introduce a 20-mph limit on all roads except the TfL network. Part of the justification is to avoid confusion with neighbouring boroughs such as Hammersmith, Fulham, Wandsworth and Ealing who already have just limits. Note: some of these boroughs do not adjoin Richmond. They also justify their proposals on the grounds of improvements in road safety while being selective in the statistics they use to support this claim.

The cost of this proposed change is £600,000 for new signage, plus £50,000 for a borough-wide public consultation on the proposal. Money to fund both would likely come from TfL grants. Is this a cost-effective use of road safety budgets? Such expenditure has not proved to be worthwhile in other locations and the money would surely be better spent on other road safety measures.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London


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The Menace of Potholes

Chislehurst High Street Pothole 2018-02-20A

You may not be aware of it, but today (8/3/2018) is National Pothole Day (twitter #natioonalpotholeday2018). This is an annual event dedicated to raising awareness of the problems caused by potholes.

Spending on maintaining roads across the whole country is being cut back by local councils to save money. As a result, potholes are increasing. This is creating dangerous roads. Cyclists are particularly at risk. There have been deaths reported of cyclists who ran into a pothole (pensioner Ron Hamer of Manchester is one such case). Roads Minister Jesse Norman reported to Parliament that 22 cyclists died and 368 were badly hurt between 2007 and 2016 where a factor in the accident was a “poor or defective road surface” and the numbers seem to be rising. Bicycles are vulnerable to damage and cars and other vehicles can also suffer very expensive damage.

Now it happens that I had cause to complain to the Leader of Bromley Council (my local borough) only a week ago. This was to Councillor Colin Smith who recently got the top job and I am confident he will do it well as he is more sensible than many Councillors. He was also previously responsible for the Environment portfolio which includes traffic issues so he should know about the subject.

I said in summary that Bromley’s roads seem to be getting much worse of late in terms of numbers of potholes – and that’s even before the recent bad weather. Bromley’s roads used to be better maintained than many other London boroughs but I do not think that is true any longer. But he did not exactly agree with me.

It is true that if one uses Bromley’s fix-my-street web site to report potholes, they are normally rectified relatively soon, particularly if they are dangerous ones more than a few inches deep. One I reported recently in Chislehurst High Street is shown in the photo above. But there are now so many potholes to report I could spend days doing so. In addition there are now so many repeated “patches” on some roads that the whole surface is poor quality and soon another pothole will develop. The general standard of the road surfaces is declining in my view.

Coincidentally Bromley Council recently published a report on their use of the “Pothole Action Fund”. This is grant funding via the Government Department for Transport to local councils. Bromley will receive £113,000 in 2017/18 and a similar amount in 2018/19. They do plan to use it to “supplement revenue budgets”. But they expect expenditure on general maintenance of roads will be reduced because the Mayor of London has cut it back – local boroughs won’t get money from him for that purpose (this is part of Sadiq Khan’s budget restrictions arising from his financial difficulties as a result of past poor decisions which I have covered elsewhere).

So we may see less major road resurfacing projects, but more patching in Bromley. Will £113,000 help a lot? It seems unlikely to me. Anyone who has any knowledge of the cost of road works would not expect that to cover more than a few rushed patches.

Drivers are advised to purchase a car sticker that I saw recently on an ABD Member’s vehicle which reads “I’m not drunk – I’m just avoiding potholes”. It’s available from Amazon.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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City of London Transport Strategy

City Traffic 2018The City of London Corporation is currently developing its Transport Strategy. The Corporation covers the square mile of the City and in some respects takes the role of other local London borough councils. It therefore has to also develop a “Local Implementation Plan” to match the Mayor of London’s Transport Strategy. The aim is to publish a Transport Strategy for the City by Spring 2019.

As part of this exercise they are running a series of “Workshops” for interested parties and I attended one on the 6th March. This is a report on the event.

The meeting was hosted by Bruce McVean who is heading up the strategy development team. Apparently they have 8 people working on this project. It was amusing to note on my journey to the event where I had to walk through the Bank road junction that there were still numerous vehicles driving through it and ignoring the no-entry signs. See previous blog posts on that subject. Although this scheme is “experimental” the Corporation recently decided to postpone any longer-term proposals for improving the situation.

There is also a “Strategy Board” who will be considering the Transport Strategy, but I have previously commented on the lack of representation on that of anyone with a knowledge of transport issues other than City Corporation staff.

The people attending this Workshop were a very mixed bunch and I have no idea how they qualified for an invite. Apart from myself there was at least one elderly City resident, a lady who represented the interests of the disabled and a keen bus rider (also enthusiastic about trams and trolley buses).

The meeting commenced with a short talk by Iain Simmons (Assistant Director – City Transportation). I had previously communicated with him on the closure of Shorter Street. He gave an overview of the process and the public consultations being undertaken which should complete by the end of the year with findings to be published in March 2019. He discussed the current use of transport in the City based on a report they recently published (called “Traffic in the City 2018” which you can find on the web). The chart above,  taken from that report, shows traffic trends in the City.

As I said to one of the Corporation’s staff this just shows how the road network in the City has been damaged over the last twenty years as it seems unlikely that the demand by users of cars, taxis and PHVs has declined but usage has been obstructed by road closures, removal of road space, traffic congestion and other factors (the congestion charge is not one of them and claims for the impact of that are spurious).

Iain Simmons said that “virtually nobody is now riding around in the City in private cars” which I can well believe. Such vehicles have not just declined, they have been replaced by PHVs to a large extent (minicabs and Uber like services) with even licensed taxis declining in the last two years. There has also been a reduction in goods vehicles (LGVs) perhaps because of consolidation of trips and companies banning delivery of internet orders to their offices. Note that one cause of the reduction of vehicles is now simply the difficulty of entering the City from surrounding roads – for example TfL are using traffic lights to restrict access along the Highway to Upper/Lower Thames Street and the East-West Cycle Superhighway has obstructed access to some parts of the City. The removal of the Aldgate gyratories in the East has also caused congestion and problems with access from that direction.

There has been a big increase in cycling as you see from the chart, but motorcycling has been declining.

One of the key issues to be faced is that the City “population” is increasing. This is mainly driven by the growth in commuters as business offices increase in number and size. This has resulted in pedestrian KSIs going up while others have remained static. Mr Simmons said they still have “a big problem with road danger reduction”. (Note: the 20-mph wide area scheme was noticeably ineffective in improving the road casualty statistics). He also mentioned there was a drive to “turn streets into places”.

Bruce McVean then covered the transport challenges and the opportunities. He said they had received very mixed responses to the consultation so far, with concerns about cycling and the disabled. But he promoted the concept of turning streets into “places” as there was a desire for more open space for pedestrians in the City.

We then broke up into smaller discussion groups. There were lots of ill-informed suggestions made, but there was some agreement on the growing dangers posed by cyclists to pedestrians in the City due to the former’s inconsiderate behaviour. The difficulty of access to some parts of the City, including tube stations, for the disabled or elderly was mentioned. Route finding by pedestrians was often difficult (the Barbican was an area particularly mentioned as being obstructive).

A Corporation staff member suggested that one way to free up more open space would be to remove on-street parking. It was unclear why visitors were using this as such spaces would be difficult to find and there are several off-street car parks. I suggested they ask the users. Note: I think removal of such spaces would only make sense if more off-street parking was provided as many such car parks are now full to capacity. They are also often difficult to access and difficult to find for casual visitors.

There was some agreement that in some areas there was insufficient capacity for pedestrians on pavements and this problem might get worse.

Suggestions were also made to remove all road traffic from the City, simplify and rationalise the road network, develop a ring road, have a “park and ride” scheme and other oddball or impractical ideas (bring back trams for example). There seemed to be little understanding of why vehicles are on City streets although it was mentioned that there are food deliveries for example.

The large numbers of currently highly polluting buses in the City needs to be looked at, particularly as some of them seem to be on “long distance” routes where there seems little need for them to go through narrow City streets.

It was suggested by a staff member that timed road closures as around the bank junction might help (as to how was not clear). I opposed that because occasional visitors are unlikely to be aware of the timings and hence create the difficulties seen at Bank.

At the end of the session I said that I considered the Mayor of London’s desire to turn roads into “places for social interaction and exercise” to be nonsense. Surely the purpose of roads is to enable the movement of goods and people. This issue was not really debated with the City Corporation seeming to have swallowed the dogma of Transport for London and the Mayor hook line and sinker without any thought. Indeed as I have commented before, City Corporation staff seem to have a prejudice against motor vehicles on the roads of the City and the history of the road network in the City over the last 30 years demonstrates many damaging changes which have increased congestion.

Here’s my analysis of the issues and what improvements should be aimed for:

Problems to be faced:

  • Increasing numbers of commuters/pedestrians.
  • Rising traffic congestion, despite reduced vehicle numbers.
  • Air pollution from vehicles and businesses still poor, the former mainly caused by traffic congestion (damaging levels of emissions from vehicles are coming down rapidly due to technological improvements).

What should be aimed for:

  • Improvements in traffic speeds to provide economic benefits and help to cut pollution.
  • Safer roads (stopping pedestrians stepping off pavements into the paths of vehicles is still a major problem).
  • More capacity for all transport modes (i.e. vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians).

I suggest it would be possible to rationalise the road network to gain all those benefits. Bank junction is a good example of where a major redevelopment could simplify the roads, improve traffic flow, free up more open space and reduce road traffic accidents.

One of the problems with releasing more open space is that there is very little unused land in the City and it is of course enormously expensive land. Therefore new office developers like to maximise the developed land space. This is a planning issue that needs to be tackled. Developers really need to have an obligation to ensure some ground space is provided as a public amenity and pavements around new developments should be widened.

In summary there are lots of ways that transport in the City of London could be improved, but I am not convinced that concepts such as turning streets into places, an Orwellian redefinition of the word street, is going to help.

In the meantime, there is a public consultation where you can give your own views here: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/transportstrategy

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Road Reopening and Closure

Transport for London (TfL) have announced a proposal to re-open St. Thomas Street in Southwark. The road lies between London Bridge Station/ The Shard and Guy’s Hospital. It was a key east/west route before the road was closed about 6 years ago.

To reach the Shard taxi drivers now have to enter the road from the west and then turn around. The proposal is to allow one-way operation west bound, but only for vehicles that wish to access premises along the road and then only at 10 mph. Cyclists will also be able to use it.

Pedestrian traffic is quite high across the road at the exit from the Station to Guys but even so it would not seem impossible to allow shared usage in a safe way. But the consultation talks about “Healthy Streets” and “rat running” so you know it’s going to be biased.

You can obtain more information and respond to the consultation on the proposals here: https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/roads/thomas/ . The ABD has suggested it could be reopened to all traffic with suitable street design.

Church Street / Isleworth

Hounslow Council closed Church Street in Isleworth a couple of years ago even though there was a petition signed by almost 2000 people against it. Now local resident Philippa Auton is planning to stand as a Councillor in the May elections on a platform suggesting it should be reopened.

The closure caused traffic on other roads to increase and meant circuitous routes for some residents.

The ABD is of course consistently opposed to road closures of all kinds unless there is very good justification for doing so, e.g. on road safety grounds.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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