Silvertown Tunnel Gets Go-Ahead

The Government has given the go-ahead for the new Silvertown Tunnel in East London under the Thames. This will run slightly to the East of the existing Blackwall Tunnels which are one location of high traffic congestion every day. The slightest hiccup such as minor accidents or people running out of fuel in the existing tunnels or on the approach roads can create miles of traffic queues.

With the Secretary of State giving planning consent, and Mayor Sadiq Khan not apparently likely to block it despite the many objectors to the scheme, it looks likely that construction will start next year with completion in 2023. This is what the Mayor had to say: “I’m delighted that the green light has been given to progress with the Silvertown Tunnel. Since I became Mayor I’ve been determined to ensure the Silvertown Tunnel doesn’t have a detrimental impact on our environment. That’s why the new plans have such a focus on cleaner transport, with only buses with the highest emission standard using the tunnel, and substantial investment in pedestrian and cycling infrastructure.”

A toll will be introduced on both the new tunnel and the old tunnels to help pay for the scheme. Although there were objections on air pollution grounds, it is not expected to make matters worse in that regard and the smoother traffic flows will mean substantial benefits. That’s apart from the economic benefits of reducing the wasted time of people stuck in traffic jams and the improved public transport provision (the new tunnel will be large enough to accommodate double-decker buses).

Comment: On behalf of the ABD I have submitted a number of supportive representations for this scheme over the last few years. For residents of South-East and North-East London this will prove to me a major improvement to the road network which is long overdue. Let us hope there are no further delays and that schemes for other Thames crossings are also progressed.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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MTS Campaign Meeting Report

On Saturday the 28th April we held a meeting for supporters of the ABD’s campaign against the Mayor’s Transport Strategy (MTS) in central London. I chose to drive to the venue as I was carrying quite a weight of equipment and papers, but it turned into a typical nightmare trip on London’s roads. It ended up taking 2 hours to drive the 15 miles there. We were doing well until we hit a closure of Upper Thames Street and The Embankment with all traffic being diverted across Southwark Bridge south of the river – the exact opposite direction to where we wanted to go. So I turned round and aimed to take a route around to the North via City Road and the Angel, Islington. But that route was also closed by apparent crane work. There was no advance notice or signs of these closures on two of the key routes in London. Even on a Saturday they are now very busy. What a dreadful way to run a transport network of a major world city!

I did eventually manage to get there in time to give my presentation, but one or two people didn’t make it perhaps because of the traffic congestion. Here’s a brief summary of what was said at the meeting. The Powerpoint presentation slides are available here: http://www.freedomfordrivers.org/MTS%20Meeting%20Presentation%202018-04-28.pdf

After a brief explanation of the objectives and background of the Alliance of British Drivers I explained the key themes of the Mayor’s Strategy. These are to turn streets into places for “active travel and social interaction”, and to reduce “car dependency”. The latter is of course an emotive phrase when nobody talks about “cycle dependency” or “public transport dependency”. Why should it be used to describe people’s rational choice of transport mode? Such phrases are just part of the “spin” put on these policies and the graphic I showed taken from the Mayor’s document demonstrates how unrealistic are the depictions of London in the future. Such graphics often ignore the needs for local transport deliveries of goods and services in London. In addition the Mayor has ignored the needs of the growing proportion of elderly and disabled people in London, many of whom have responded to our campaign as they are dependent on private cars or PHVs.

I talked about the Mayor’s problems which the Strategy aims to counter. This includes a rapidly growing population in London which is putting a stress on public transport capacity and road congestion, and also leading to higher air pollution (and not just from traffic). These of course result from past policies adopted by London Mayors. But one of his key problems is shortage of money with a massive budget deficit looming. This results from public transport fare freezes which he promised to get elected, increasing subsidies and general financial mismanagement.

I explained that the answer from the Mayor are policies that will extract more money from Londoners (and those who visit London from outside) and restrict private travel in the name of making the population healthier. There are a number of ways the Mayor can implement these policies, via the encouragement of the London boroughs if not directly.

What alternatives could the Mayor have proposed? Obviously one of the key factors has been the growing population of London and he could have reduced that by encouraging redistribution of business activity and population as was done in the 1960s via New Towns, or by not promoting it as “more open” to immigration as he has done recently. The implementation of cycle superhighways in the manner done, road space removal (road closures, removal of gyratories, etc) and other detail policies emanating from TfL have also contributed. I suggested that it was possible to improve the road network for cyclists and for road safety without such damaging impacts on the road network.

There was a brief explanation of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) and the misleading claims made about deaths from air pollution in London (as one member of the audience put it: “40,000 deaths a year in London”, which shows how spurious statistics are being propagated). There is no major health crisis, Londoners are living longer and air quality is improving! We then had a session from Howard Cox of FairFuelUK. He explained what his organisation has been doing to obtain 1.7 million supporters for a campaign that is well worth supporting. He has been good at obtaining both media and political support as a result. He questioned why the Government have not looked at alternative ways of improving air quality and looked at other sources of emissions rather than just focussing on vehicle owners. FairFuelUK are working with others to produce better scientific evidence on the real health impact of emissions and the cost of ignoring alternative solutions to reducing emissions.

I explained what the campaign against the MTS had been doing and what we will do going forward. The audience was encouraged to support us in several ways to enable us to generate more supporters and more funds to fight the campaign.

Lastly there was a session on how to defeat the MTS. This can be done in local boroughs (for example I explained earlier how the ABD had defeated a proposed congestion charge in Greenwich promoted by Ken Livingstone over ten years ago), or perhaps by ensuring Sadiq Khan does not get re-elected as Mayor in two years’ time. As he is doing a good job of becoming unpopular for other reasons, just like Ken Livingstone at the end of his reign, perhaps the slogan should be similar to the popular one in that era – namely “anyone but Khan” for Mayor at the next election.

It was noted that the ABD can give assistance with local campaigns in several ways – you just need to ask for it.

We covered how supporters can help the campaign. Recruiting more supporters is one key aspect over the next few months, ensure that people find out what is being done in their local boroughs (a member of the audience suggested that people ask if there are any proposals for a local congestion charge) and provide funds to fight the campaign. It is important to ensure that more London residents, and those in surrounding areas, know what is being proposed because there is general ignorance on the subject – few people have actually read the Mayor’s Transport Strategy document but it will dictate many aspects of travel and parking in London over the next few years.

There was plenty of time for questions from the audience. Two particular subjects that arose was the status on Cycle Superhighway 11 (CS11) and Bank Junction closure in the City. On the former, which was proposed to result in the closure of Regent’s Park to vehicles, it seems that it may be being held up by objections from affected borough councils after all. CS11 is a good example of how local opposition can delay or thwart unreasonable proposals. On Bank this is an experimental scheme but will be subject to a review in a few months’ time and I explained what representations the ABD had made on this topic.

The key as always if you want to have an impact on politicians is not just to moan in private or on social media, but to directly contact the political decision makers – the Mayor London, London Assembly Members, your local M.P, local Councillors, et al. It is also necessarily to respond to relevant public consultations and get the vote out when necessary.

In my experience politicians do listen, particularly when it seems they might be at risk of losing an election by pursuing unpopular policies! Please bear that in mind. That was perhaps one of the most important points communicated at this event.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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The Real Profits from the ULEZ

In January we published a note on the likely profits that Transport for London (TfL) would make from the Ultra Low Emission Zone. That was based on our own estimates of the income they would receive (based on TfL data) as TfL had disclosed some information on budgets in response to an FOI Act request but it seemed to be grossly misleading.

We have now received more information which is given in this note: http://www.freedomfordrivers.org/ULEZ-Profits.pdf . This shows that the income they would be receiving after extension to the North/South Circular would be over £125 million per year which is even higher than our own previous estimates.

However, the profits after operating costs would be lower than from the central London Congestion Charge zone alone presumably because the operating costs over the wider area, with many more vehicles affected, would be higher. We do not yet know the implementation cost for the wider area. Can TfL afford the capital cost is one question yet to be answered, bearing in mind that they are heading for a deficit of £1 billion per annum.

But the key point is that the £125 million will be taken out of the London economy every year, plus there is the cost to vehicle owners in upgrading their vehicles to be compliant with the ULEZ which we previously estimated at over £200 million (see our previous note on the cost/benefit ratio of the ULEZ here: http://www.freedomfordrivers.org/Cost-of-the-ULEZ.pdf

We also pointed out in that note that so far as NOX emissions go, which is one of the main concerns, that these are rapidly falling anyway. Is the ULEZ, particularly the extension to within the North/South Circular, really justified? Despite what the Mayor says, there is no major public health crisis in London from air pollution. There are some localised problems which can be fixed by local measures. But extracting hundreds of millions of pounds in what are effectively taxes from Londoners for the ULEZ when it would be better spent on other useful and productive public health measures makes no sense.

The ULEZ will just move money from Londoners pockets to the scheme operators (private organisations) and the bloated bureaucracy that is TfL.

However one looks at it, the economics of this scheme and the justification for it in relation to the benefits to be obtained, when there are surely better solutions to the air pollution problem in London, seem dubious in the extreme. Both the Conservative Party and FairFuelUK have suggested alternative policies to tackle air pollution – you can see the latter’s stance on it here: https://www.fairfueluk.com/Survey-Background.html

Please make sure you oppose these irrational policies.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Emirates Cable Car, Bike Hire and TfL Finances

The London Evening Standard recently ran an article that suggested the Emirates Cable Car might be sold off or scrapped. The Cable Car runs across the Thames at Greenwich, cost about £60 million to build and opened in 2013. Passenger numbers have been lower than forecast with it mainly being used by tourists. I used it once but it’s a very slow means to get across the Thames at that point, even allowing for delays at the Blackwall Tunnel.

Does it lose money? According to the information provided by a recent FOI Act request, the numbers are as follows for the 12 months to Jan 2017: Income £9.2 million, Operating Costs: £6.0 million. But £3.3 million of the income comes from Emirates Airlines sponsorship under a deal that runs to 2021, so it barely breaks even ignoring the sponsorship money. Why an airline would wish to subsidise this slow and unreliable mode of transport (it frequently breaks down or has to stop in high winds) was never very clear.

On break-even if they don’t renew sponsorship it might be argued it is worth retaining, but obviously the construction cost will never be recovered, and even exceptional maintenance costs might be unaffordable. The Mayor and TfL have some tough decisions to make on this one.

The Standard also suggested that the Santander Bike Hire (formerly Barclays) might be scrapped to save money. It costs £21 million per year to run, of which TfL pays £3.6 million according to the Standard article. It might have encouraged more cycling in London, although users of these bikes are some of the worst behaved cyclists from my observations – perhaps because tourists unfamiliar with London traffic and road rules tend to use them. However, there are now some commercial alternatives who operate a “dockless”, pick up and drop off anywhere system. It might must be that after just a few years the technology is obsolescent.

Both subjects are of course under the spotlight because of the pressure on the Mayor’s Transport Budget where he has seriously miscalculated the funding needs and the impact of his past promises to his electorate. Another aspect that TfL are examining according to an FT article is the exemption from the London Congestion Charge (a.k.a. “tax”) for taxis and PHVs (mini-cabs). The latter have proliferated with such operators as Uber creating a lot more traffic congestion. Why they should be exempt was never very clear, although the argument is perhaps that they offer a public service similar to buses. But it’s not very clear why buses should be exempt either, particularly as they create a lot of congestion.

Bearing in mind the need for the Mayor to raise money, and the fact that he is threatening to cancel Uber’s licence, the expected outcome is surely going to be something like this: Yes we won’t cancel your licence after all but you’ll need to pay the Congestion Charge, or a specially large annual licence fee. Is that a deal?

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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City of London Transport Strategy

City Traffic 2018The City of London Corporation is currently developing its Transport Strategy. The Corporation covers the square mile of the City and in some respects takes the role of other local London borough councils. It therefore has to also develop a “Local Implementation Plan” to match the Mayor of London’s Transport Strategy. The aim is to publish a Transport Strategy for the City by Spring 2019.

As part of this exercise they are running a series of “Workshops” for interested parties and I attended one on the 6th March. This is a report on the event.

The meeting was hosted by Bruce McVean who is heading up the strategy development team. Apparently they have 8 people working on this project. It was amusing to note on my journey to the event where I had to walk through the Bank road junction that there were still numerous vehicles driving through it and ignoring the no-entry signs. See previous blog posts on that subject. Although this scheme is “experimental” the Corporation recently decided to postpone any longer-term proposals for improving the situation.

There is also a “Strategy Board” who will be considering the Transport Strategy, but I have previously commented on the lack of representation on that of anyone with a knowledge of transport issues other than City Corporation staff.

The people attending this Workshop were a very mixed bunch and I have no idea how they qualified for an invite. Apart from myself there was at least one elderly City resident, a lady who represented the interests of the disabled and a keen bus rider (also enthusiastic about trams and trolley buses).

The meeting commenced with a short talk by Iain Simmons (Assistant Director – City Transportation). I had previously communicated with him on the closure of Shorter Street. He gave an overview of the process and the public consultations being undertaken which should complete by the end of the year with findings to be published in March 2019. He discussed the current use of transport in the City based on a report they recently published (called “Traffic in the City 2018” which you can find on the web). The chart above,  taken from that report, shows traffic trends in the City.

As I said to one of the Corporation’s staff this just shows how the road network in the City has been damaged over the last twenty years as it seems unlikely that the demand by users of cars, taxis and PHVs has declined but usage has been obstructed by road closures, removal of road space, traffic congestion and other factors (the congestion charge is not one of them and claims for the impact of that are spurious).

Iain Simmons said that “virtually nobody is now riding around in the City in private cars” which I can well believe. Such vehicles have not just declined, they have been replaced by PHVs to a large extent (minicabs and Uber like services) with even licensed taxis declining in the last two years. There has also been a reduction in goods vehicles (LGVs) perhaps because of consolidation of trips and companies banning delivery of internet orders to their offices. Note that one cause of the reduction of vehicles is now simply the difficulty of entering the City from surrounding roads – for example TfL are using traffic lights to restrict access along the Highway to Upper/Lower Thames Street and the East-West Cycle Superhighway has obstructed access to some parts of the City. The removal of the Aldgate gyratories in the East has also caused congestion and problems with access from that direction.

There has been a big increase in cycling as you see from the chart, but motorcycling has been declining.

One of the key issues to be faced is that the City “population” is increasing. This is mainly driven by the growth in commuters as business offices increase in number and size. This has resulted in pedestrian KSIs going up while others have remained static. Mr Simmons said they still have “a big problem with road danger reduction”. (Note: the 20-mph wide area scheme was noticeably ineffective in improving the road casualty statistics). He also mentioned there was a drive to “turn streets into places”.

Bruce McVean then covered the transport challenges and the opportunities. He said they had received very mixed responses to the consultation so far, with concerns about cycling and the disabled. But he promoted the concept of turning streets into “places” as there was a desire for more open space for pedestrians in the City.

We then broke up into smaller discussion groups. There were lots of ill-informed suggestions made, but there was some agreement on the growing dangers posed by cyclists to pedestrians in the City due to the former’s inconsiderate behaviour. The difficulty of access to some parts of the City, including tube stations, for the disabled or elderly was mentioned. Route finding by pedestrians was often difficult (the Barbican was an area particularly mentioned as being obstructive).

A Corporation staff member suggested that one way to free up more open space would be to remove on-street parking. It was unclear why visitors were using this as such spaces would be difficult to find and there are several off-street car parks. I suggested they ask the users. Note: I think removal of such spaces would only make sense if more off-street parking was provided as many such car parks are now full to capacity. They are also often difficult to access and difficult to find for casual visitors.

There was some agreement that in some areas there was insufficient capacity for pedestrians on pavements and this problem might get worse.

Suggestions were also made to remove all road traffic from the City, simplify and rationalise the road network, develop a ring road, have a “park and ride” scheme and other oddball or impractical ideas (bring back trams for example). There seemed to be little understanding of why vehicles are on City streets although it was mentioned that there are food deliveries for example.

The large numbers of currently highly polluting buses in the City needs to be looked at, particularly as some of them seem to be on “long distance” routes where there seems little need for them to go through narrow City streets.

It was suggested by a staff member that timed road closures as around the bank junction might help (as to how was not clear). I opposed that because occasional visitors are unlikely to be aware of the timings and hence create the difficulties seen at Bank.

At the end of the session I said that I considered the Mayor of London’s desire to turn roads into “places for social interaction and exercise” to be nonsense. Surely the purpose of roads is to enable the movement of goods and people. This issue was not really debated with the City Corporation seeming to have swallowed the dogma of Transport for London and the Mayor hook line and sinker without any thought. Indeed as I have commented before, City Corporation staff seem to have a prejudice against motor vehicles on the roads of the City and the history of the road network in the City over the last 30 years demonstrates many damaging changes which have increased congestion.

Here’s my analysis of the issues and what improvements should be aimed for:

Problems to be faced:

  • Increasing numbers of commuters/pedestrians.
  • Rising traffic congestion, despite reduced vehicle numbers.
  • Air pollution from vehicles and businesses still poor, the former mainly caused by traffic congestion (damaging levels of emissions from vehicles are coming down rapidly due to technological improvements).

What should be aimed for:

  • Improvements in traffic speeds to provide economic benefits and help to cut pollution.
  • Safer roads (stopping pedestrians stepping off pavements into the paths of vehicles is still a major problem).
  • More capacity for all transport modes (i.e. vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians).

I suggest it would be possible to rationalise the road network to gain all those benefits. Bank junction is a good example of where a major redevelopment could simplify the roads, improve traffic flow, free up more open space and reduce road traffic accidents.

One of the problems with releasing more open space is that there is very little unused land in the City and it is of course enormously expensive land. Therefore new office developers like to maximise the developed land space. This is a planning issue that needs to be tackled. Developers really need to have an obligation to ensure some ground space is provided as a public amenity and pavements around new developments should be widened.

In summary there are lots of ways that transport in the City of London could be improved, but I am not convinced that concepts such as turning streets into places, an Orwellian redefinition of the word street, is going to help.

In the meantime, there is a public consultation where you can give your own views here: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/transportstrategy

Postscript: Under the City Corporation’s “Road Danger Reduction Plan”, there are some interesting new initiatives. These include:

  • Lane closures on multi-lane roads at night. Not that there are many in the City but Mansell street is one where there was a pedestrian fatality in 2017.
  • Part-day filtering of certain vehicle types at peak times.
  • Active Travel Priority Zones where the recommended speed for vehicles would be no greater than 10 mph.
  • Lunchtime closures of streets as there are more pedestrians around at that time.

These measures are in response to the latest road safety statistics which show high numbers of pedestrian casualties, mainly from stepping into roads without looking. Pedestrian numbers are rising, and the 20 mph wide area speed limit across the City has had negligible impact. There also seem to be increasing numbers of collisions between cyclists and pedestrians, which can be serious or fatal (e.g. the example of Charlie Alliston on Old Street).

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Press Release: Mayor Sadiq Khan Ignores Objections to his Transport Strategy

The ABD has issued the following press release:

The response of the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, to the public consultation on his Transport Strategy has been announced today. The Alliance of British Drivers (ABD) has been actively campaigning against certain aspects of his proposals.

We suggested that his proposals were a direct attack on the use of cars or indeed private transport in general and that not only were his proposals unrealistic but would not work. Our campaign attracted more responses to his proposals than any other campaign group.

Has he made any significant changes to his proposals? In reality NO. The response document (see below) is full of comments that say “no change” is proposed.

A Brief Analysis of Responses to the Public Consultation

The Mayor claims “broad support” for his Healthy Streets approach and the 80% mode share target for cycling, walking and public transport use. But then goes on to say “there were sometimes divergent views across issues”. Indeed, if you look at the details of the comments TfL received there was substantial opposition to many points, including much opposition to road user charging or congestion charging schemes.

There were clearly lots of opposing comments from outer London residents and although the Mayor has committed to respond to them by improving the bus network and surface rail in outer London, this is hardly likely to placate many objectors. Our experience is that many of those objecting are disabled or very elderly who often rely on private vehicles and who would have difficulty with public transport (most of them consider the suggestion that they should cycle as laughable). You can see some comments from our campaign supporters on our web site.

This is also evident from the Consultation Response Document where it says “there was a notable level of disagreement with the aim that by 2041 Londoners should be doing 20 minutes of active travel each day” (page 30 of the Consultation Report).

Opposition to road charging was evidenced by 566 “comments of concern” versus 250 supportive comments (see page 103). That’s good evidence of the level of opposition. That’s despite the repeated claims by the Mayor that the Congestion Charge system reduced congestion (see page 106), which is simply not true. But it is “no change” for his strategy to support charging schemes. His only concession is that it will be up to local boroughs to consider how or whether to implement them (see page 109). The ABD is likely therefore to be fighting these in individual boroughs in future as we successfully did in Greenwich when this was last proposed.

Even the Mayor’s environmental policies received a lot of negative comments (see page 110) and there were also many against “densification” of London which is a major concern in outer London boroughs (see page 162). The Mayor again proposes “no change” to his strategy on those.

In summary a disappointing outcome, with consultation responses minimised by the short timescale allowed. The outcome is much as one might expect when you have a Mayor who has dictatorial powers and who does not seem to understand the diverse population of London and those who live in outer London.

More Information

The ABD’s campaign against the Mayor’s Transport is described here: http://www.freedomfordrivers.org/against-mts.htm

The Announcement from TfL and the Consultation Report document can be obtained from here: https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/policy/mayors-transport-strategy/?cid=mayors-transport-strategy

For more information, contact Roger Lawson on 020-8295-0378.

Traffic Speeds in London – They Are Getting Worse

I was having a clear out today of my office, and I happened to notice a copy of Ken Livingstone’s Mayor’s Transport Strategy dating from July 2001. It made for both amusing reading and anger at the lack of progress made since.

This is the first sentence in his Foreword to that document: “The single biggest problem for London is the gridlock of our transport system. At the start of the 21st Century, traffic speeds in central London have fallen to less than ten miles an hour with knock-on effects on the speed and reliability of the bus system. Congestion is growing in outer London town centres. Rail services are in unprecedented crisis. The Underground is more over-crowded and unreliable…..”. He said the transport crisis threatened London’s economic prosperity and suggested London needed a “world class transport system”.

Have we got one now? Not exactly and traffic speeds have actually fallen below what they were in 2001. In central London traffic speeds were reported as being less than 9 mph in central London last year by various sources, and as low as 7.3 mph in one quarter in 2017.

The Underground is more crowded than ever with some stations having to be closed at peak times. Surface rail has improved in some regards on some lines, but certainly not if you are a Southern Rail user.

What did Mr Livingstone plan to do to improve the dire state of affairs he commented upon? Apart from the fine words about improving the capacity of the public transport network as in Sadiq Khans recently published Transport Strategy, he proposed to implement a Congestion Charge “to deter unnecessary vehicle journeys in central London”. That obviously did not work. You can find a lot more analysis of why on this web page: http://www.freedomfordrivers.org/congestion.htm .

Excuses from the Mayor and Transport for London as to why it did not work are numerous but are false. It failed simply because London has such high unsatisfied demand for road space and lots of people willing to pay for it, that they simply soaked up the space. The Congestion Charge (a.k.a. Tax) has more than doubled since Ken Livingstone introduced it, and still it did not work. In addition, more road space has been taken up by buses which are massively subsidised and their numbers expanded under Livingstone (they are still high) and by the modern fashion for PHVs (Uber etc). The growth in the population of London, and of businesses in central London, have created major headwinds in addition while cycle lanes have taken up valuable road space but are often relatively little used.

Mr Livingstone, and his successors Boris Johnson and Sadiq Khan have persisted with irrational and unproductive gestures without getting to the nub of the issue and producing policies that might actually work. Boris Johnson seemed to try to solve the problem by encouraging cycling, and Sadiq Khan’s added walking as a solution to both our transport and health problems. He also suggests road pricing or more congestion charging might help when we know from experience that those policies will not improve matters.

I suggest readers tell Sadiq Khan that a totally fresh approach is needed. Not more of the same regurgitated policies that emanate from Transport for London.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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