Travel in London – It’s Certainly Changing

A report that should be essential reading for everyone who has to travel around the London metropolis has recently been published by Transport for London (TfL). It’s called “Travel in London – Report 8). It shows how transport in London has been changing, partly as a result of the growth in population, partly from attempts to encourage cycling and “modal shift” in general and the impact of a buoyant economy. Here’s a brief summary of the contents, with some comments.

The population of London grew to a record 8.6 million people in 2015, the highest point since 1939. In 2014 total trips rose to 26.6 million in the average day – that’s 8% more than in 2008, and 2% more than the previous year. In other words, travel has been showing strong growth in London.

There is however a trend for falling private car use, but rising use of public transport and more cycling and walking. As it says “a feat unprecedented in any major city“, driven by “consistent policies”. The population of London is expected to continue to grow rapidly, but will feature more older people.

About half of all bus journeys in England are now made in London – an unbelievable figure which demonstrates just how much they are subsidised. But bus patronage has levelled off in recent years because of “a similar trend in service supply”, i.e. fewer buses are being run as subsidies have been slightly reduced so the consumption falls to put it in plain English.

London Underground, DLR and Overground rail services likewise show strong growth with more capacity on these lines supporting the growth.

Road traffic has fallen for much of the last decade, but has increased in the last two years. For example traffic volumes were up by 3.4% in central London in the most recent year, and 1.9% in outer London. This is thought to reflect population growth and economic trends, but the increase in traffic has brought pressure to bear as congestion rises from reduced road space and other causes. As the document says: “….effective network capacity for general traffic continued to be reallocated to other MTS (Mayors Transport Strategy) priorities“.  I think they mean changes to accommodate more cyclists, more bus lanes, removal of gyratories in the name of road safety and similar such measures. There was a sharp 13% increase in average traffic delay in 2014 according to the report, which won’t surprise anyone who has to drive in London – and that does not even reflect the changes made since the start of 2015.

The number of licensed taxis has remained stable, but the number of private hire vehicles (minicabs) has risen sharply – up by 19% in the latest year alone. That has had a significant impact on traffic congestion of course.

Cycling levels rose by 10.3% between 2013 and 2014, and walking has risen but only by the same trend as population growth. There could be more people commuting into central London by bike than by car soon, but that change is much less noticeable in the outer London boroughs.

There are positive trends in CO2, PM10 and NOX emissions (a lot of which come from transport vehicles) reflecting initiatives to improve local air quality.

Comment: this report shows the impact that Boris Johnson’s policies have been having on transport in London. Basically more people cycling, with cars discouraged by reductions in road capacity. Cycling has also been encouraged by sharp increases in public transport fares which have been rising faster than inflation making it one of the most expensive cities in the world for public transport – unless of course you are one of those who hold a Freedom pass where your travel is subsidised by the rest of the population for reasons which this writer finds difficult to understand. Originally introduced by the Greater London Council in 1973, it has remained a financial millstone around the necks of London boroughs even though the GLA was subsequently abolished by Margaret Thatcher.

Encouraging more cycling has had some unintended consequences because it is one of the less safe modes of transport, particularly when you get a lot of new, inexperienced cyclists on the roads or those who like to “pedal furiously” as is now a frequent sight on the roads of London. The end result is demands for more measures to improve the safety of cyclists, which can be very expensive.

Are all these changes of benefit? You might not think so if you are one of those increasing numbers of older people who are not able or willing to cycle. It seems unfortunate that Londoners have never really been asked what they would like as public consultations on these matters have been low key and certainly the cost/benefit of all these changes have never been spelled out. But it seems unlikely that this will be a debating topic for the competing Mayoral candidates.

Roger Lawson

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