Changes to Congestion Charge – PHVs Targeted To Raise Money

The Mayor of London and TfL have announced proposals to change the Congestion Charge (a.k.a. Tax) so as to raise more money. The main change is that PHVs (minicabs) will no longer be exempt from paying this tax. Uber and other drivers will no doubt be up in arms about this and it will mean their clients pay a lot more.

Another change is that the Ultra Low Emission Discount (ULED) which currently applies to vehicles that emit less than 75g/km of CO2 will need to have zero emission capability by 2019 and by 2021 only electric vehicles will qualify. That means that many of the 20,000 vehicles currently registered for the ULED will need to be changed if the owners wish to continue to qualify for the discount.

A Blatant Lie

What’s the justification for these changes? The consultation announcement says that the Congestion Charge “was a huge success”. It claims a reduction in traffic and a 30% reduction in congestion as well as improvements in air quality since it was introduced. These claims are simply spurious. There was a short-term reduction in some vehicles entering the central zone, but the numbers of taxis, PHVs and buses increased. The result was that congestion soon returned to what it was before the tax was introduced and has since got substantially worse. Neither was there any improvement in air pollution which was never expected to happen and did not. See this web page for the facts: http://www.freedomfordrivers.org/congestion.htm

The claims made by TfL are downright lies. But traffic delays have been increasing which is the justification put forward by TfL for the proposed changes.

Why Should Taxis Be Exempt?

One controversial aspect of the original scheme was that registered taxis (black cabs) and PHVs (private hire vehicles) were exempt from the congestion tax. It was never very clear as to why some vehicles should be exempt while others are not. Why should private car occupants pay the charge while people using other vehicles for similar journeys should not? Even more puzzling is why PHVs are now proposed to be taxed while taxis are not. What is the logic of this? Note that the increase in PHVs due to the popularity of services such as Uber has led to many more vehicles entering central London of late and hence have contributed to congestion significantly in the last couple of years. But will the tax now proposed actually reduce their numbers? That is surely unlikely for the same reason that the congestion charge scheme did not reduce congestion. The unsatisfied public demand is such as to soon soak up the capacity released by people unwilling to pay the tax. You cannot solve congestion via taxation!

It’s About Money

The conclusion must be that these proposals are more about raising money for the Budget of Mayor Sadiq Khan. He desperately needs it. See previous blog posts for coverage of that topic.

A Timely Announcement

One might ask why the Mayor chose to announce these changes on a Friday lunchtime when the news channels will be dominated by the Brexit decisions and the England World Cup match for the next 48 hours. This might enable him to escape the opprobrium of PHV drivers for a few hours but not much longer I suggest.

More Information

See this web page for more information and to respond to an on-line consultation: https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/policy/private-hire-charge-exemption/?cid=ccyourviews

You may also wish to tell us how the ABD should respond to the consultation as we will certainly be doing so.

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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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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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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 be 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

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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

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