Cutting Rail Fares by One Third

The latest bribe to the electorate from the Labour Party is a promise to cut rail fares by one third. This would be financed by diverting income the Government receives from Vehicle Excise Duty to the railways.

Motorists already pay much more in taxes than are spent on the roads (see https://www.abd.org.uk/road-investment-and-road-user-taxation-the-truth/ ). Railways have been massively subsidised ever since they were nationalised in 1947 – the “privatisation” of the railways has had little impact on that although rail passengers have been paying relatively more of late so as to finance improvement in the infrastructure.

Diverting VED tax to subsidise rail passenger fares will mean big cuts in spending on the roads, leading to even worse traffic congestion. Meanwhile reducing rail fares by one third will have very perverse effects. For example in London and the South-East it will lead to even more long-distance commuting as rail passengers find it cheaper to travel from far afield into the capital.

In summary this proposal is just bonkers economics as resources are diverted on irrational grounds.

Why should rail passengers not pay the real cost of their travel? Anyone who thinks their cost of using a car should not subsidise unrealistic train fares now knows who not to vote for in the General Election.

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Uber Licence Cancelled in London

Transport for London (TfL) and Mayor Sadiq Khan are terminating Uber’s license to operate in London after deciding they are not a “fit and proper” organisation to run such a service. This cancellation is after a two-month extension to the license to allow a new application to be submitted and previous legal action by Uber. Uber intends to appeal the decision and can continue to operate in the meantime (for the next 21 days only from the 25th November).

Uber provides a service valued by many people in London, and termination would put over 40,000 drivers who operate the service out of a job, many of whom are from immigrant backgrounds. However there are alternative “app” based services as well as traditional black cabs and other phone booking based PHV (mini-cab) services.

The exact reasons for termination seem somewhat trivial as given in the TfL press release – see below. It includes technical glitches in the Uber software that allowed drivers to upload photos to other drivers accounts and hence operate as them. However there is no evidence provided of any harm to passengers that resulted. Such technical issues should be easy to fix.

One has to question whether TfL are attacking Uber, and will attack other operators similarly, purely on the grounds that they are unhappy with the number of PHV vehicles that are now on the streets of London.

Comment: This writer occasionally uses Uber and I have always been happy with the service. I think there will be a lot of irate customers as well as Uber drivers if this decision is allowed to stand. But it will no doubt please their competitors.

TfL Press Release on Uber: https://tinyurl.com/wt47lqv

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London Councils Making Even More Money From Parking

The RAC Foundation have published some figures on how much local Councils profit from parking. The latest data shows that the profits they make have risen by 7% to £930 million in the last year. The profits in some London boroughs are the highest in the country with Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea, Wandsworth, Hammersmith & Fulham, Camden and Islington all being in the top 7. In fact 12 of the 13 highest profiteers in the country are all in London with only Brighton & Hove being the exception.

Total income received from parking was £1.75 billion with costs incurred were £0.82 billion. Income comes from on-street parking, permit parking schemes, off-street car parks owned or run by Councils and parking enforcement. They are not supposed to make a profit from on-street parking but clearly do in many cases. However they can legally charge what they like for off-street car parks.

Any surplus from on-street parking is supposed to be spent on transport improvements but that is in practice a very broad item and includes expenditure such as supporting concessionary public transport fares, cycle lanes and many other things that have no benefit whatsoever to vehicle users who have paid for the parking. In reality Councils are using parking fees as a slush fund to finance all kinds of projects in some boroughs. Some of the surplus is spent on road maintenance but that has been falling which is why there are more and more potholes on our roads.

It is surely time for national government to intervene to rectify these abuses that are taking place because high parking charges are destroying many High Streets and Town Centres as retailers are already under pressure from the internet.

For more information and to see how your local borough compares the RAC Foundation report is present here: https://tinyurl.com/qm9ypy2

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London Congestion – It’s Only Going to Get Worse

London Population Trend

As anyone who has lived in London for more than a few years probably knows, the population of the metropolis has been rapidly rising. This has resulted in ever worse congestion not just on the roads but on public transport also. The roads are busier, rush hours have extended and London Underground cannot handle the numbers who wish to travel on some lines during peak hours. Even bus ridership has been declining as the service has declined in reliability and speed due to traffic jams.

The Greater London Authority (GLA) has published some projections of future population numbers for the capital and the conclusion can only be that life is going to get worse for Londoners over the next few years.

The current population is about 8.8 million but is forecast to grow to 10.4 million by 2041, i.e. an 18% increase. This increase is driven primarily by the number of births and declining death rates. The relatively high numbers of births in comparison with what one might expect is because London has a relatively youthful population. One can guess this is the case because of the high numbers of migration from overseas which results in a net positive international migration figure while domestic migration to/from the rest of the UK is a net negative, i.e. Londoners are being replaced by immigrants.

But population increase in London does not have to be so. The chart above shows you the trend over the last 100 years and as you can see London has only recently reached the last peak set in 1939. During the 1960s to 1990s the population fell. What changed? In that period there was a policy to reduce overcrowding in London and associated poor housing conditions by encouraging relocation of people and businesses to “new towns”. But when Ken Livingstone took power he adopted policies of encouraging more growth. His successors have continued with those policies and have promoted immigration, e.g. with Sadiq Khan’s “London is Open” policy.

Many Londoners complain about the air pollution in the London conurbation without understanding that the growth in businesses and population have directly contributed to that problem. More people mean more home and office heating, more transport (mainly by HGVs and LGVs) to supply the goods they require, more emissions from cooking, and many other sources. The Mayor thinks he can solve the air pollution issues by attacking private car use and ensuring goods vehicles have lower emissions but he is grossly mistaken in that regard. The problem is simply too many people.

Building work also contributes to more emissions substantially so home and office building does not help. But the demand for new homes does not keep pace with the population growth resulting in many complaints that people have to live in cramped apartments or cannot find anywhere suitable to live at all. Likewise new public transport capacity does not keep pace with the increased demand. There is some more capacity on the Underground but only on some lines and not much while Crossrail which might have helped has been repeatedly delayed.

The economy of London is still buoyant.  But all the disadvantages of overcrowding in London mean that Londoners are poorer in many ways. Those who can move out by using long-distance commuting or relocating permanently thus leaving London to be occupied by young immigrants.

Any Mayor who had any sense would develop a new policy to discourage immigration, encourage birth control and encourage emigration to elsewhere in the UK or the Rest of the World. But I doubt Sadiq Khan will do so because a poorer population actually helps him to get elected.

If Sadiq Khan wanted Londoners to live in a greener, pleasanter city with a better quality of life then he would change direction. But I fear only intervention by central Government will result in any change. In the meantime those who live in London might like to tackle their potential MPs, Greater London Assembly Members and prospective Mayors for what they would do about the problems covered in this article.

Go here for more details of the GLA projections of London’s population: https://data.london.gov.uk/dataset/projections-documentation

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Shepherds Bush and Kensington Consultation Responses and TfL Budgets

The Mayor and Transport for London (TfL) have published the results of their consultation on proposed changes to roads in Shepherds Bush and Kensington (Wood Lane, Notting Hill Gate, etc). The proposed changes will increase journey times for road users and hence also increase congestion – see https://tinyurl.com/yzxhb9m8 for our original report. As one person commented on that article: “Another example of the Mayor’s determination to punish the motorist under the misguided ploy of improving air quality. This latest proposal will in fact worsen air quality by delaying traffic flow”.

The TfL Consultation Report also correctly quotes our comments on the consultation where it says the ABD “Was very critical of the online consultation material, branding them a ‘disgrace”. There were no costs given for the scheme and the questions were biased to get the required answers.

There were 5,386 response to the consultation and many people agreed that it would encourage cycling, walking and use of public transport. That’s hardly surprising is it when they realised that private vehicles will be delayed.

The consultation was also biased because there were 58,539 emails sent out to people asking them to respond but it was only sent to “people who use public transport or cycle in the area”. In reality Oyster Card and Contactless customers, so private vehicle owners were excluded.

Even with all this manipulation, they still managed to get 2,151 people who argued that the proposals would cause traffic congestion or delays, and 1,565 people who said the proposals would worsen air quality. There were also particular concerns about the Holland Park area and the removal of trees.

The London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham supported the proposals but Kensington & Chelsea borough have objected. TfL have developed revised proposals which include saving more trees and discussions are continuing. At least this shows how strong local opposition to a scheme can cause TfL to reconsider. But the whole process of TfL consultations is ethically flawed.

You can read the TfL Consultation Report here: https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/roads/wood-lane-notting-hill/ 

Crossrail delays and TfL budget impact

Other news is that TfL have announced that Crossrail (the Elizabeth Line) opening date is to be delayed yet again and it not going to open until 2021. It was originally scheduled to open in 2018. Problems with signalling systems seem to be the cause, and costs are ramping up so it is now likely to come in at over £18 billion. This demonstrates how large rail projects are enormously expensive and are approved with over-optimistic budgets and projected timescales. This is why HS2 should be cancelled now before even more money is wasted on a scheme with a poor cost/benefit ratio.

The additional delay to Crossrail opening will result in another big hole in TfL’s budget because there were many millions of pounds of income expected from fare paying passengers on the new line.

But TfL have devised one way to improve their cash income. They are changing the auto top-up level for Oyster Card users from £10 to £20. This will mean that TfL will be holding much higher balances of customer money than before. The exact impact has not been disclosed but I hope to report more information on this at a later date.

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The Tube – The Dirtiest Place in London

The Financial Times ran a full-page article yesterday (6/11/2019) under the headline “The Dirtiest Place in London”. It covered the air pollution on the London Underground and the risks to health. It said “the Tube is by far the most polluted part of the City. Fine particles of dust, metal, skin and clothing fibre have built up in the tunnels over a century of use, leaving a toxic miasma that is stirred up by passenger trains and inhaled by passengers”.

The FT did a survey of some of the central tunnels and found air pollution levels exceeded World Health Organisation guidelines by as much as ten times. The deepest lines were the worst – namely the Central, Victoria and Northern lines. Particulate (PM2.5) levels can be many times that of roadside levels in London – up to 20 times for the Northern line.

This is not a new news as we covered this issue on our blog in January. But the FT article is well worth reading.

Is Mayor Sadiq Khan going to do anything about this soon? Apart from doing some more cleaning it seems not. So while he taxes allegedly polluting car drivers the dangers from other sources are downplayed with little action taken. Perhaps it’s because fixing the problem would cost TfL and the Mayor money whereas motorists are a source of taxation.

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ULEZ Revenue and Benefits – Not As Expected

ULEZ SignTransport for London (TfL) have released some figures for the first six months of the ULEZ scheme (for April to September 2019). The bad news for the Mayor is that the income from the scheme in fees paid by non-compliant vehicle owners and penalty charges is much less than expected.

There was revenue of £31 million from charges paid (12.50 per day for cars, vans and motorcycles and £100 for HGVs and buses). Plus there was £11 million from penalty charges. One driver managed to collect 81 penalty charges but otherwise it is the typically high figure you see from camera enforced schemes where many people don’t realise they have entered the charging zone or forget to pay.

But the overall income of £41 million, equivalent to £82 million per annum, is much less than originally anticipated. Income in the first year was originally estimated to be £174m and costs £47m, producing a surplus of £127m. So the surplus is likely to be a fraction of that originally anticipated at only £35 million. See https://tinyurl.com/y4w6pwuk for the original estimates.

It would seem likely that more vehicle users than anticipated have switched to newer vehicles with the proportion of non-compliant vehicles falling rapidly to only 25% in September. The overall number of vehicles also appears to be falling. The low numbers of non-compliant vehicles means that the income will also fall substantially in the second half of the year thus reducing even further the anticipated surplus so it could be much less than even £35 million. This will put yet another hole in the Mayor’s financial budget for TfL which is already in a dire state.

The good news (at least for those who believe that NOX air pollution is a major health hazard – the ABD does not), is that NOX emissions from road transport in the central zone are estimated to have fallen by 31%. That is probably consistent with the original estimates that there would be a fall in NOX emissions of 17% by 2021 as only about half of such emissions come from road transport and such emissions are falling rapidly anyway as the vehicle fleet is renewed.

Only a small reduction in CO2 emissions is reported, and no figures on particulates (PM) are yet reported. You can read the full TfL report here: https://tinyurl.com/y2h63dxc

The ABD still believes that this is a very expensive scheme that is imposing enormous costs on many vehicle owners with very marginal benefits in terms of air pollution. It is unclear whether NOX actually has any negative health impacts – see our report here that covers the air pollution issue in depth: https://tinyurl.com/yx9bk9kg . We would also like to see some actual measurements of NOX rather than just estimates.

There has never been any proper cost/benefit justification for this scheme but the Mayor no doubt saw it as a means to plug the holes in his TfL budget with the ULEZ tax. In reality it’s going to raise a lot less than anticipated.

Readers should make sure they oppose the expansion of the ULEZ to the North/South Circular in 2021 which will cover many more people.

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