Transport for London (TfL) have released their latest survey of travel patterns in London. It’s a mine of statistics but the “spin” put on the data is generally grossly misleading. For example, it says “Londoners and visitors make increasingly sustainable choices for how they get around, choosing to walk, cycle and use public transport”. Walking and cycling have slightly increased – see comments below, but how is public transport “sustainable”? A high proportion of public transport is buses and diesel London buses are a major contributor to air pollution while air pollution on the London Underground is worse than on London’s streets so how is that “sustainable”? Of course there is no definition of “sustainable transport” in the Report – it’s simply a way for TfL to claim some things as good and others bad.
Total travel demand in terms of number of trips taken has been flat for the last three years despite the continuing growth in the population. In reality Londoners are choosing to travel less simply because traveling in London has become more difficult. Public transport has become overcrowded while private transport (cars and PHVs) are being discouraged in numerous ways.
Bus journeys declined by 1.8% last year probably due to the same reasons as the decline in use of cars – traffic congestion has slowed journey times, making it quicker to walk in many cases.
Cycling in terms of cycled kilometres rose by 5% it is claimed but still only accounts for 2.5% of all trips despite the massive expenditure on cycle superhighways and other cycling facilities. This figure is also distorted by using distance cycled instead of number of trips by that mode. You can see the data more clearly by looking at this chart from the Report:
This shows clearly that cycling has not been growing and any alleged increase is simply down to the growth in the population of London. This is what one person had to say on Twitter: “The same tiny number of people cycled 5% further because the weather was a bit nicer than usual that year; at a cost of £millions to taxpayers, while record numbers of Londoners sleep rough and get murdered. In any other setting this would be surreal: but not in Sadiq Khan’s London”.
The Report also claims success in the Mayor’s objective of promoting more “active travel” such as cycling and walking to make us more healthy. As regards walking the above chart shows how walking has declined over the last ten years. And Figure 5.2 in the Report shows that the percentage of people achieving 20 minutes per day of active travel is basically unchanged in the last ten years.
The big trends over the last ten years have been increases in underground patronage – up 25.6% – and national rail usage – up 41.5%. Which explains why you cannot get a seat on the trains or the underground and during rush hours you’ll either be squeezed into the carriages or can’t even get into the station. This has arisen because of a failure to match public transport provision with the growth in London’s population which incidentally is mainly from immigration as the Report spells out.
Bus journeys declined by 1.7% last year and have actually declined by 0.6% over the last ten years. It seems that nobody likes buses. Perhaps it’s that standing in the cold or rain waiting for a bus or unreliable bus arrival and trip times that puts them off – it certainly does this writer.
Motorised road travel declined slightly in inner and central London but rose slightly in outer London. Londoners are apparently reluctant to give up car use despite the ever increasing restrictions on them. One change though is the use of PHVs (mini-cabs) has risen to offset the decline in private cars. For example it is estimated that as much as 40% of car traffic in central London at certain times is accounted for by PHVs, but their numbers are forecast to fall substantially due to removal of the exemption from the Congestion Charge (a.k.a. Tax) and the new ULEZ tax.
The Report notes how serious road traffic casualties increased last year which shows how the Mayor’s “Vision Zero” strategy is failing. But interestingly it also notes that injuries in the London Underground increased by 6% last year to 3,968 while bus passenger injuries declined by 8.6% to 4,889. These are surprisingly high numbers but still less than those injured in road traffic accidents.
Only 56% of London households have access to a car with an even lower proportion in inner London. But this proportion has not substantially changed in the last ten years (see Figure 4.12 in the Report).
The report gives some data on air pollution and in particular of NO2 emissions which mainly come from transport. This has been falling substantially, particularly in central London, mainly due to changes to newer vehicles in the vehicle fleet. See chart below taken from the Report.
The Report goes on to claim an impact from April 2019 from the introduction of the ULEZ in central London but in reality the trends in the above chart will simply have continued so any claim for an impact from the ULEZ is a figment of TfL’s imagination. It is simply too early to claim any impact as reliable data is not yet available. And just to remind you, there is no clear medical evidence of any negative impact of NO2 on human health.
In summary although this TfL Report contains some useful data, it misinterprets the trends in London travel patterns and the impact of the Mayor’s Transport Strategy. Most of the changes in travel trends in London have probably occurred from a rising and ageing population.
The report is very selective in both data reporting and interpretation. For example there is no data on traffic congestion which from most users experience has worsened considerably in recent years. That degradation has taken place from policies pursued by TfL which has meant removal of road space from cycle lane installation, widening of pavements, junction changes, more pedestrian crossings and traffic lights and other negative changes.
However an interesting section of the Report is on future travel demand and possible “Scenarios” in Chapter 14. One of the three scenarios is “Accelerating London” with high levels of population growth and immigration, high housing costs and rising crime rates, i.e. more of the same. A second scenario is a “Rebalanced London” with lower economic growth, a stable population size with actual falls in inner London and a slower pace of life. It sounds positively utopian if you read it. The third scenario is “Innovating London” where there is a focus on more technology both in employment and facilitation of travel. It does not say which the Mayor of London might back however.
Regrettably as with anything the Mayor or TfL issue, the Report is more of a public relations document than an unbiased analysis of the trends in London travel and its causes. It should be read with caution.
You can find the Report here:
It just remains to wish readers of this blog Best Wishes for the New Year and a belated Happy Christmas
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