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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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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Driverless Vehicles, Air Pollution Claims and Scrappage Scheme

Streetwise Vehicle Ed

Residents of the London Boroughs of Croydon and Bromley need to look out from today (24/10/2019) because for the first time, driverless cars will be present on their roads. These will be operated by company FiveAI and may carry passengers but will always have somebody at the wheel ready to take over. These are basically trials run by a consortium named Streetwise.

How will they cope with the problem that London’s roads are very unlike the West coast of the USA where most such trials have been conducted to date. Stan Boland, CEO of FiveAI said “We have lower lighting, higher rainfall and greater density of road users and we also have to deal with erratic, medieval street plans that are nothing like the grid systems of the US”. However these trials are not quite so revolutionary as first appears because they will actually be on a “fixed route” – see  https://tinyurl.com/y4n8zfnq for more details.

Comment: Mr Boland did not even mention the occasional fog and snow. I remain sceptical of the general applicability of this technology when even my very intelligent TomTom satnav sometimes gets lost in central London. There are claims that it might save lives from reduced accidents, but Gill Pratt, CEO of Toyota Research has recently acknowledged that driverless cars might actually kill people. They may reduce accidents overall by removing driver error which is the cause of many accidents, but it seems software errors may still be  problem.

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, has published claims that the ULEZ scheme in central London has reduced air pollution very substantially. He claims roadside NO2 pollution has fallen by 36% in the zone with no increase in the surrounding area. He attributes this to a large reduction in the number of older or polluting vehicles entering the central zone. This is hardly surprising as operators of older LGV vehicles will have found it financially wise to change their vehicles. But the ABD doubts the claims about the actual reductions in emissions which we believe are estimates based on vehicle numbers rather than actual air quality measurements. We have submitted an FOI Act request to obtain more information. There is likely of course to have been some reduction due to renewal of the vehicle fleet over time (newer vehicles generally have lower emissions) and specific changes in the bus fleet and a strong focus on higher polluting commercial vehicles such as HGVs. But many of the pollutants in the air come from other than road transport vehicle sources and much blows in from elsewhere in the central zone.

The Mayor has also announced a £25 million scrappage fund for low-income Londoners. This is aimed at helping them move to less polluting vehicles. Motorists will be able to get up to £2,000 for scrapping older, more polluting vehicles. How many people will be able to take advantage of this scheme? Only a minority in essence because only people who are receiving means-tested benefits or disability allowances will qualify and as the fund is limited in size it may be on a “first come, first served” basis. In addition it’s probably needless to point out that £2,000 does not buy you a new car, and not even a good second-hand one. The conclusion is only people on benefits with cash in the bank to help buy a new vehicle may find it helpful. It’s surely a token political gesture which is what we tend to see from Mayor Sadiq Khan.

The latest scare story about air pollution is that on high pollution days in London it might cause an extra 87 cardiac arrests per year, an extra 144 strokes, and 74 children and 33 adults ending up in hospital with asthma-related issues. This is a claim made by researchers at King’s College London based on a study relating high pollution days to medical events.  NHS England boss Simon Stevens said it was evidence of “a health emergency”. But this is a very simplistic analysis of complex data. Such days might also be very hot ones which are known to trigger medical events. Even the claimed numbers are very small. In London. For every 100 cardiac arrest ambulance call-outs on low-pollution days, they would expect to see 102 on high-pollution days. It’s basically a statistical fraud derived from epidemiology.

Regrettably we seem to be suffering from air pollution hysteria at present. Few people look at the evidence from an unbiased scientific viewpoint and most of the claims made do not stand up to scrutiny by anyone with a scientific background.

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Londoners May Face £100 For Engine Idling and Decriminalisation of Speeding Offences

London Boroughs may gain powers to fine motorists £100 who leave their engines running under a Bill introduced in the House of Lords. That’s up from the maximum £20 at present. In addition those who run diesel generators when air pollution is high may be banned – Extinction Rebellion please note as they ran a portable generator recently to support a demonstration.

The installation of new ‘combustion plant’ machinery, which includes gas boilers, solid fuel boilers, combined heat cooling and power plant, and stationery generators would only be permitted if the amount of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM) emitted by the plant did not exceed a limit set by the Secretary of State.

These measures are aimed at overcoming the defects in the current Clean Air Act that are ineffective in controlling some pollution when non-transport related emissions are likely to become the majority very soon. Note that the Mayor of London is also looking for more powers in this area but it would surely be better if such powers were given to the boroughs rather than the Mayor.

Comment: these measures are not unreasonable although the impact on air pollution of engine idling is probably minimal even though it causes a lot of annoyance to residents when people park outside their homes and do it. But enforcement is difficult so little practical impact may be the result. See https://tinyurl.com/y2meb4s4 for more details. There is also no mention of wood-burning stoves which are one of the biggest problems at present.

The aforementioned Bill is being introduced in the House of Lords as a private members Bill so progress is not guaranteed. Another Bill being introduced in that way is one to decriminalise speeding offences. That should surely be opposed as it would lead to an even greater number of fines for speeding with the sole motivation of extracting more money from motorists. That is what happened when parking offences were “decriminalised” so that Local Authorities could enforce them. See https://tinyurl.com/sr37oef   for more information

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Sadiq Khan’s Election Manifesto – Have Your Say

The Labour Party are inviting everyone to have their say on Sadiq Khan’s Manifesto for re-election as London Mayor in 2020. You can read about his achievements to date and submit answers to their questions via this web page: https://tinyurl.com/y29yu999 . It is of course a very biased document like all consultations that Mr Khan presides over, but anyone can respond – you don’t need to be a Labour Party member.

Perhaps the Mayor is short of ideas to ensure he gets re-elected. His last big vote winner was freezing public transport fares but after three years of holding the tide back of inflation in King Canute fashion he has managed to dig a deep hole in Transport for London’s finances which simply cannot continue. Bus services are being reduced as a result while traffic congestion increases. His policies on Congestion Charging and the ULEZ will impose higher costs on many Londoners with minimal public health benefit. He has also clearly failed to tackle rising violent crime and not solved London’s housing problem – indeed his only proposal for the latter is to introduce rent controls which would make matters worse.

But he does admit to increasing the Council Tax Precept (what you pay to the Mayor from your local council taxes) to the maximum allowed. No thanks Mr Mayor. All his other claimed achievements are quite trivial in relation to the problems Londoners perceive as key issues.

All the way through the document, the Mayor emphasises that he has limited powers over many aspects and clearly wants more. But it would be very dangerous to give him more.

Here are some of the questions and how you may care to respond to them (I have only covered those questions that are relevant to transport):

Environment and Climate Change:

Question: How do we take the next steps to clean up London’s air and oversee a massive shift from polluting cars to walking, cycling and electric vehicles at the same time?

Answer: concentrate on fixing the vehicles over which you have control and which are major contributors to air pollution, i.e. diesel buses. You also need to tackle air pollution on the Underground. Otherwise any measures should be justified on cost/benefit grounds and scare-mongering over an imaginary public health crisis as the justification for higher taxes should be stopped. The expansion of the ULEZ to the North/South Circular should be halted and the introduction of more Cycling schemes that create more traffic congestion (and hence air pollution) should be halted.

Transport:

Question: How else can Sadiq make London’s transport system affordable and accessible to all Londoners?

Answer: Stop wasting money on schemes with very poor cost/benefits (such as the proposed Rotherhithe bridge and most of the Cycle Superhighways the finance for which has to come out of public transport fares. He needs to stop spending money and imposing taxes on road users to make the transport system more affordable for everyone. That includes halting the investment in 20 MPH speed limit schemes and cycle schemes that have poor cost/benefits. He should also cease support of road-pricing and workplace parking levies.

Question: What are the future major schemes that Sadiq could focus on delivering?

Answer: The Silvertown Tunnel is one which will be a major benefit for east London. Repairing the Hammersmith Bridge is another for West Londoners. Improving major east-west and north-south road routes such as the Embankment rather than degrading them with 20 MPH speed limits and cycle lanes should be another key objective.

Question: What more can be done to promote walking and cycling?

Answer: Some youth elixirs for the elderly and inform would help and concealing the dangers or cycling is another. That is of course just a witty response to a proposal that is unnecessary and has major disbenefits.

Question: When asking for more powers and devolution from Government on transport issues, where should Sadiq focus his energies?

Answer: Give the Mayor powers to introduce policies to reduce the population of London so as to reduce pressure on the transport, housing and public health systems. Specifically redistribution of business and people out of London and powers to reduce immigration and encourage birth control.

He should also argue for a commitment to devolve more powers to local boroughs so as to avoid TfL dictating local borough policies and more funds financed by central Government to be given to local boroughs solely to be used on improving the road network in London. In addition the Mayor should be given the power to set sensible minimum parking standards for new developments (not maximum ones) in London boroughs.

Those are just a few ideas to help Mr Khan, or indeed his opponents, to get elected.

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Press Release: London and Paris Have The Same Problem: Their Mayor

Smog

Paris ‘smog days’ have increased from 5 to 22 per year in the past 4 years as a direct result of the Mayor’s anti-car policies and despite a low emission zone (Ref. 1).

Paris now has fewer cars, but emissions have increased due to more congestion caused by cycle lanes, pedestrianisation and 8000 construction projects. Hamsa Hansal, who owns a fleet of 10 cabs, describes the Mayor of Paris as “a hysteric. Nothing but bicycle lanes and construction sites. Total chaos. Such BS. Traffic jams 24/7” (Ref. 2).

ABD Environment spokesman Paul Biggs said: “It’s well known that increasing congestion increases emissions. This fact seems to have escaped successive London Mayors and the Mayor of Paris, who seem hell-bent on grinding economically essential traffic to a halt – traffic that can’t be replaced by walking and cycling. This results in a vicious circle of increasingly punitive air quality measures against drivers costing orders of magnitude more than even the claimed benefits. It seems that obstructing traffic and raising revenue from drivers takes priority over improving air quality.”

Notes for Editors:

(1) Paris Low Emission Zone (ZCR):

https://www.lez-france.fr/en/information-about-the-critair-vignette/french-environmental-zones-zcr/paris-zone-zcr.html

(2) New York Times – The Greening of Paris Makes Its Mayor More Than A Few Enemies:

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/05/world/europe/paris-anne-hildago-green-city-climate-change.html

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