The Cost of Khan

Gareth Bacon, leader of the GLA Conservatives, has published a very interesting document entitled “The Cost of Khan”. It supplies a half-term report on the regime of Mayor Sadiq Khan and the negative impact he has had in certain areas (crime, planning, parking, housebuilding for example). In essence he suggests one of the key problems is financial mismanagement.

Of particular interest to our readers will be his comments on the activities of TfL (Transport for London) and the budget for that organisation. It covers:

  • Cancellation of new tube trains for the Jubilee and Northern Lines that would have provided much needed extra capacity. That might have saved £600 from the TfL budget but that’s desperately needed after Khan’s expensive promise to freeze public transport fares which cost at least £640 million in foregone revenue. Even that promise was only partly kept.
  • The pay of executive staff in TfL. The number who are paid more than £100,000 p.a. increased by 25% last year so there were 576 such employees. Is the Mayor really cutting the flab out of TfL budgets as he promised to do?
  •  The “T-Charge” which was introduced last October and will cost Londoners £23 million a year despite the Mayor’s own Impact Assessment saying it will have only a negligible impact on pollution (and that has been borne out by real data since).
  •  Nominee passes which you may not be aware of are highlighted. These allow TfL employees to nominate family members and anyone who resides in the same household to obtain free travel. Even flatmates qualify! There are 39,884 people who are nominees and the cost might be equivalent to £32 million in lost revenue per year.

Those and other reports show how the Mayor has been so wasteful of financial resources with the result that he is desperate to raise money from the T-Charge and the ULEZ charge which will impose major unnecessary costs on Londoners. In the personal view of this writer TfL continues to be a massive and very expensive bureaucracy which is unaccountable to the public. It formulates transport policy that will increase the bureaucracy and then does public consultations designed to get the right answers. TfL needs major reform but the Mayor does not seem to have it under control.

The “Cost of Khan” Report is present here: https://www.glaconservatives.co.uk/uploads/1/1/7/8/117899427/final_cost_of_khan__2_.pdf

Roger Lawson

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Degrading the Road Network in the City of London

On Friday (29/6/2018) I attended a Transport Strategy Meeting hosted by the City of London Corporation. The Corporation covers the square mile and acts as one of the London boroughs in most respects. They are currently drawing up their 25-year Transport Strategy, are holding a number of consultation events and have done surveys. See this previous report for more information: https://abdlondon.wordpress.com/2018/03/08/city-of-london-transport-strategy/ . Note that the consultation is still open so if you work, live or visit the City, make sure you respond.

The meeting was hosted by Bruce McVean, Strategic Transportation Group Manager, and there were less than a dozen people attending most of whom seemed very unlike the typical City office worker who dominate the streets of London during the day, i.e. it was a very unrepresentative sample of those who might be affected by the proposed plans. The number of City residents attending also seemed minimal which is not surprising as there are so few of them.

Bruce mentioned that a new “Road Danger Reduction and Active Travel Plan” was out for consultation which was news to me. It is here: https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/services/transport-and-streets/road-safety/Documents/road-danger-reduction-and-active-travel-plan.pdf

Bruce talked about the “draft outcomes” for the Transport Strategy as they have clearly already come to some conclusions. Some of the evidence already obtained suggests that 60% of people think that pedestrian space is too small a share of street space and that cycling is under-prioritised. Bearing in mind that the vast majority of those surveyed or who have responded to the consultations will be pedestrians or cyclists this is perhaps not surprising. Should they not have asked a similar question of road users? Such as do you think roads are overcrowded and would you like more road space allocated to vehicles? One can guess the answer they would have obtained. Everybody wants “more” without consideration of any rational or economic allocation.

Bear in mind that private cars are a vanishing species in the City. The roads are occupied mainly by buses, taxis and private hire vehicles (PHVs – minicabs), and goods vehicles. In fact 93% of travel in the City is already by public transport, walking and cycling. The Mayor of London’s target is 80% so the City already exceeds that, but Bruce said the Mayor would like it to be 99%! If the Mayor gets his way there would be no private cars or cabs in the City at all!

Some 90% of on-street journeys in the City are already partly or completely walked – this reflects the reality of city commuting where several hundreds of thousands of people arrive at the main-line stations and walk to their office.

I took the same conventional route to his meeting in the City of London Guildhall where the meeting was held from Cannon Street and walked through Bank junction. Still lots of vehicles ignoring the closure and no doubt collecting a fine as a result. Bruce suggested this closure was a major success when it does not provide any more space for pedestrians as a full redesign of the junction would have done. Neither does it fully solve the road safety problems at the junction as there are still likely conflicts between buses, cyclists and pedestrians. It looks like a proper solution is being kicked into the long grass while major damage to the road network is being implemented.

Bruce indicated that there will be 90,000 more workers in the City in the next few years which may be true and will certainly put an extra load on the streets. Pedestrian space at certain locations is already very crowded (e.g. at Bank). I asked whether the Corporation knew where cyclists were coming from and who they are. It seems the Corporation do not know but are currently doing a study on that. I asked because I was sceptical whether cycling could help other than the minority of people coming from nearby boroughs and hence there may not be the growth in demand for cycling anticipated. A member of the audience suggested there might be a growth in “cargo cycles” as an alternative to LGVs.

The “draft outcomes” already determined indicate that “people walking will have their needs prioritised” and that there will be “motor traffic reduction”. The latter and the change to lower emission vehicles will reduce air pollution (which is still a problem in the City which I noticed on my short walk even though the streets I walked through actually had very few vehicles on them at 2.30 pm – I just don’t understand why many people who responded to the survey felt that streets were “dominated by motor vehicles” – that’s not my experience on most City streets).

The proposal is to use street space “more fairly and effectively”, and that includes the suggestion that “transformational change will be accelerated through temporary interventions and trialling projects prior to making permanent changes”. In other words more closures like Bank junction and closures perhaps of some streets at lunchtime as indicated in the aforementioned document.

As I said to Bruce at the end of the meeting, the likely strategy seems to have been developed by deciding what they wanted to do and then doing a consultation based on asking the questions needed to get apparent support for it. The discussions at the previous Workshop event I attended do not seem to have been taken on board at all.

It is certainly a priority to improve pedestrian space where it is currently congested (such as Bank) but that needs to be done without damaging the road network. I opposed temporary or timed closures because these create major difficulties for road users. Vehicle users should not suddenly find that their planned route is blocked and even Sat Nav devices get baffled by such timed closures.

Removing vehicles altogether from the City is also not a viable suggestion. There is still a need for buses, construction traffic, goods deliveries and service operators’ vehicles. Even private cars and taxis provide a valuable service to a few people (and they are already very few – reducing them further won’t make much difference). I consider the suggestion that cargo bikes could take over LGV deliveries as a very inefficient use of labour and is unlikely to be cost effective.

But you can see from this brief description of this event the way the winds are blowing. The City is following the Mayor’s Transport Strategy and other London boroughs are likely to follow suit. The road network will be degraded in the alleged interests of cyclists, pedestrians and environmental dogma.

As regards the “Road Danger Reduction….” Document, the objective is zero KSIs (“Vision Zero” as it is called). A laudable if perhaps impossible objective unless all vehicles are removed and we revert to a pre-industrial age (cargo bikes are one example, perhaps rickshaws already common in the West End, and Sedan chairs will be next). But at least the Corporation have got around to working with the Police on a “Causal Factors Programme”. That involves looking at the causes of collisions and where they take place which may enable dangerous behaviours and locations to be tackled. This is similar to what other London boroughs have been doling for years. A statistical analysis approach of where, when and why accidents take place is one of the best approaches to improving road safety. That is of course different to the “driven by political gestures” approach such as the wide-area 20 mph scheme imposed on the whole of the City which has proved totally ineffective in reducing accidents. KSIs have not been falling in the City, not helped by increases in both pedestrian and cyclist numbers who are the main casualties. But one suggestion is to “research opportunities for timed closures to certain classes of traffic” which would be a retrograde step.

Behavioural change is one approach being suggested. This arises from such problems as pedestrians stepping into the street without looking or under the influence of alcohol, and pedal cyclists taking unnecessary risks in their hurry to progress. The latter will be targeted by a “City Etiquette” campaign so that they take more notice of pedestrians. Education of all road users is one of the main themes, and people opening vehicle doors without looking is another problem that may be amenable to education.

In summary, there are some useful ideas on the document but it’s not likely to make major inroads into the road safety statistics unless more money is spent on road engineering. It’s not always an easy task to reconfigure roads in the City – Cheapside is a good example of what can be achieved. But schemes like Bank junction are surely ones to avoid.

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Uber and London Airport – One Current and One Future Court Case

Uber have been appearing in court to appeal the loss of their licence to operate in London. The magistrate’s decision will apparently hinge on whether they are “fit and proper” persons to operate a taxi service, and with the weight of evidence about past failings, whether they have changed their management or the way they operate. A decision should be delivered in a few days.

It would seem unfortunate if they are not allowed to continue as it has proved to be a very popular service with many users, although no doubt competing firms would no doubt fill the gap rapidly.

A legal battle is now in prospect after Parliament voted yesterday to progress the expansion of London Heathrow Airport with a third runway. Local west London borough councils and the Mayor of London are queuing up to join a threatened legal action against the development on the grounds that it will be unable to meet environmental regulations.

An application for a judicial review looks likely from at least Hillingdon, Richmond, Wandsworth and Windsor & Maidenhead with support from Mayor Sadiq Khan. Hillingdon have already reserved a budget of £200,000 for the case.

Some readers were surprised by this writer’s previous comments opposing the expansion of London Airport. A good letter by Dr Sally Cairns in the Financial Times summarised the reasons very well – here’s a part of it: “Heathrow already subjects more than half a million people to significant noise annoyance; generates more than 30 million car journeys a year through a busy part of London with air pollution problems and is the UK’s biggest point source of carbon dioxide emissions. Objecting to Heathrow expansion is not about nimby-ism – it is about the lack of evidence for the benefits, and the strong likelihood of high social and environmental costs”. The letter writer gives an address in Wokingham, but it was painful to watch BBC TV News last night with some of the residents talking whose homes will be demolished as a result. That’s if it ever happens. In the meantime, they are stuck in limbo and probably for some years, being unable to sell their homes.

Note though that the air pollution problems around Heathrow are caused to a large extent by aircraft. Cars and goods vehicles do contribute but are getting cleaner very rapidly with electric cars now very viable for most drivers. Electric aeroplanes of any size are a long way from reality and the growth in air traffic is a major problem for toxic emissions.

The legal and other delays, such as the likely reluctance to fund the enormous cost, could mean years wasted when other solutions to increased travel demand are available and could be progressed more rapidly. The disruption caused by the expansion of road capacity to serve a larger airport and the need to divert the M25 into a tunnel will be a major problem for road traffic during the lengthy construction period.

Many factors mitigate against expansion of Heathrow, despite the apparent commercial benefits of doing so.

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Mayor’s Environment Strategy Misses the Point

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Kham, has published his Environment Strategy. The executive summary talks about the “greening” of London with more trees, green roofs and walls to reduce energy demand, the encouragement of more walking and cycling to improve air quality and many other environmental improvements. But the report fails to mention the key problem. Namely that there are too many people in London.

It highlights that water supply is set to outstrip supply by 2020 and the city’s electricity infrastructure is approaching full capacity. Air pollution is also high but that’s not just from transport, albeit much of the transport emissions are generated by the goods vehicles and public transport vehicles required to serve the growing population. Non-road emissions such as from construction, the river or wood burning constitute half of emissions in London and are a growing issue – that’s what the Mayor says, but he has no solution to that other than to “work with the government and other partners”.

London’s population is growing rapidly and the more people there are, and the more businesses that provide employment and services to those people, the more energy and water are consumed and the more emissions generated. It also results in a sclerotic road transport network where no new capacity has been added for many years. But instead of tackling the root cause of the problem the Mayor is talking about planting more trees and providing more open spaces.

In summary, many of the Mayor’s proposals are worthy and may have minor impacts on the quality of life in London. Encouraging us all to drive zero emission electric vehicles by 2050 may help in some regards, although they will add a further heavy load on the already stretched electricity network, but the report fails to spot the elephant in the room and propose how to deal with it. Namely that there are too many people in too small an area of land. The densification of London, with more and more homes and other buildings to support the growing population, supported by a few more green parks will not tackle the fundamental problem.

More information on the Mayor’s Environment Strategy is present here: https://www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/environment/london-environment-strategy

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More on the ULEZ Expansion

Apart from the lack of any proper cost/benefit justification for the ULEZ expansion as I explained in my previous blog post on the subject (see https://abdlondon.wordpress.com/2018/06/08/mayor-proceeds-with-expansion-of-ulez/), there are other very good reasons why you should see this as a very dangerous step.

As I have already pointed out, once the infrastructure is put in place for this scheme it will enable the Mayor to introduce congestion charging schemes in future over most of London. But there are lots of other possible negative scenarios.

You may say, I am not too concerned because I don’t drive an old diesel vehicle or I can afford to buy a new vehicle that is exempt. But once the Mayor obtains this power to obtain money from vehicle owners in London he can easily vary the rules so that everyone is paying a lot more money in taxes.

For example, he could claim that come 2022, the new ULEZ has proved to be less effective than expected in reducing air pollution. Indeed that is very likely to be the case. Or he might simply say that air pollution is still not good enough. He could justify charging all vehicle users accordingly, even the latest petrol and diesel vehicles. Indeed he could argue that even electric vehicles should be included as they generate particulates from brake and tyre wear. So it could be not just £12.50 per day for older diesel vehicles, but for everyone!

In addition as we saw with the central London Congestion Charge (a.k.a. Tax) this was initially set at £5 per day but is now £11.50, i.e. it’s more than doubled but has not proved any more effective. It now generates significant revenue for TfL above operating costs. So instead of the ULEZ charge being £12.50 it could soon be moved to £15, £20 or even £30 per day and for everyone.

Do you think that the Mayor and TfL have no such intention and have not even looked to the future prospects for this scheme? Think again. The ULEZ is being driven by the desire for more income by the Mayor. Follow the money as always in politics. Discouraging motor vehicles by high charges on everyone who owns one would be perfectly consistent with his objective, as stated in his Transport Strategy, to reduce car usage to a fraction of what it is at present.

A particularly sickening aspect of this matter is the involvement by the Mayor of very young schoolchildren to promote his policies and his politics. He announced the latest extension at Netley Primary School in Euston. This “photo opportunity” was covered by the national media extensively. But what do schoolchildren know about this subject? And why should their teachers be allowing this kind of politicking in their schools? Netley Primary School is close to the Marylebone Road, one of the most polluted roads in London, but even so this hardly justifies the involvement of young children. Mayor Sadiq Khan is a serial offender in this regard as he has done this previously. Children should not be used by politicians to promote their financial policies.

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Mayor Proceeds with Expansion of ULEZ

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has announced that the proposed expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to within the North/South Circular will go ahead in 2021.

This will mean that it will cost you £12.50 per day (365 days per year and at all times) to drive within that area from 2021 if you drive an older car (roughly diesel cars/vans more than 6 years old in 2021 and petrol cars/vans more than 15 years old). There will also be heavy charges for non-compliant HGVs and buses. The only concessions the Mayor has made is for an extra 4 years for disabled vehicles and for charity minibuses. He claims “staunch support” for these proposals but only 56% of respondents to the consultation supported it – and that after a very biased consultation report.

In reality this scheme is a very expensive solution to cleaning up London’s air when not only is that happening already as older vehicles are scrapped, but there are also better alternatives. It imposes major costs on Londoners out of all proportion to the benefits. Read our previous blog post on this topic for more background: https://abdlondon.wordpress.com/2018/03/25/the-real-profits-from-the-ulez/ . In summary for a total cost of £516 million to London vehicle users, the health benefit is valued at £7.1 million over 5 years. This is surely one of the most ineffective uses of financial resources ever devised.

Not only that, the infrastructure to be put in place for this scheme will enable the Mayor to introduce congestion charging schemes in future over most of London. Will it be demolished once it is no longer needed as the vehicle fleet is modernised? Don’t bet on it.

Note that the ABD supports improvements to London’s air quality because there are certain locations where it is clearly a significant problem. Focussing on transport alone will not solve it though. Likewise penalising older diesel vehicle owners is not fair when they were bought in good faith and encouraged by Government aims to reduce CO2 emissions – and doing so will have only a minor impact. What we have is political posturing where the Mayor wants to be seen as doing something while he is fixing his budget problems at the same time by the money to be raised from the ULEZ. It’s an ignorant policy led by an ignorant politician.

More information in the Mayor’s Press Release here: https://www.london.gov.uk/press-releases/mayoral/ultra-low-emission-zone-to-expand .

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London Airport Expansion – Government Stops Prevaricating

It seems that the Government has decided to try and push ahead with a third runway at London Heathrow airport. It is likely to be voted upon in Parliament in the next few weeks which will provide some distraction from the Brexit debates. The plan is to double the airport’s capacity to cope with rising passenger and freight demand. However Chris Grayling, Transport Secretary, said it would only go ahead if the UK’s air quality obligations could be met.

Apart from the hundreds of people whose homes will be demolished, there are many objectors to these plans from west London politicians and from others such as Boris Johnson and Zac Goldsmith. Residents of many areas of London are strongly opposed because of the increased noise and air pollution that are likely to result. Tory MPs have been promised a free vote on the issue, and it also seems unlikely that the Labour party will support it without reservations.

One major problem with this choice for airport expansion is that the new runway will be sited so that it crosses the existing M25. So that will have to be put in a tunnel. The increased road traffic going to and from the airport combined with the emissions from aircraft will make the area surrounding Heathrow one of the worse pollution hot spots in London – indeed it already is. So how will that be fixed? Perhaps by a local “congestion charge” no doubt.

If you wish to join the opposition to Heathrow expansion (as this writer did many years ago), why not support Hacan who have long opposed the noise from the airport? See http://hacan.org.uk/ where you can read more information on this issue.

It seems very odd to me that airport expansion has to be concentrated in the heavily populated south-east of the country. The unbelievable figure of 30% of the UK’s exports currently go through Heathrow. It’s the London-centric mentality of politicians and planners yet again. This will rise further if a third runway is built. No other nation has such a focus for centralising transport to such an extent in an already overcrowded part of the country so far as transport facilities are concerned. Freight and passenger traffic should be distributed across the country so that road traffic is minimised via the expansion of regional airports.

Roger Lawson

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