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

You can “follow” this blog by clicking on the bottom right.



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

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

You can “follow” this blog by clicking on the bottom right.


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.

Postscript: It is noticeable on a more detailed study of the Consultation Report that the numbers responding to the specific questions, and the responses given, are not reported. For example, one of the questions posed in the consultation was “To what extent do you agree or disagree with the above plans for road user charging in London?”, and the options to respond were “Strongly Agree – Partially Agree – Neither Agree nor Disagree – Partially Disagree – Strongly Disagree – No opinion”.

Although the comments written in by respondents are classified, and in some cases reported, why are there no simple percentage numbers of the aforementioned responses given? What is TfL trying to hide? The ABD has submitted an FOI Act request to obtain this data.

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

You can “follow” this blog by clicking on the bottom right.


Enormous Numbers of Fines at the Dartford Crossing

Income reported by the operators of the Dartford Crossing on the M25 grew substantially last year. This was partly due to increased numbers of users, but also because of higher “enforcement” activity – chasing up people who fail to pay.

In fact the numbers who don’t pay are very large, and as a result the fines issued were 45% of the total income. There were 48,491,894 users in 2017 but 2,045,840 did not pay in advance. Even though first-time users who don’t pay are only issued with a warning letter and given more time to pay, this generates £92 million in enforcement income.

The numbers mean that about 5% fail to pay as required, although that is better than the 10% that applied in the first few months the free-flow system was in operation. Bearing in mind that such systems are likely to be used for new Thames crossings at Blackwall (the Silvertown Tunnel) and further down river, it is necessary to consider whether it is fair and reasonable to operate such systems.

There also seems to be a particular problem with non-UK registered vehicles where the compliance rate was only 82%. There was also £50 million in charges and penalties that had to be written off as uncollectable, many of whom were no doubt foreign drivers.

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, was quoted in publication LTT as saying: “No one using the Dartford Crossing looks back with nostalgia at the days when payment involved throwing coins into a basket. Users of the crossing might well question the eye-wateringly large sums coming in as penalty charges resulting from enforcement action – at £92m that’s more than the total paid by account holders, and is up by 50% over 2015/16.

Looked at as management information, such a high level of enforcement action suggests something is going very wrong with the message to road users, many of whom may well think the prominently displayed congestion charge ‘C’ signs relate to the nearby London scheme rather than the crossing itself.

While the cognoscenti readership of Local Transport Today might recognise the fine distinction between a charge and a toll, perhaps it is time for Highways England to revert to the latter as terminology most drivers – domestic and international – would understand.”

One cannot but agree with him, but I don’t think improving the signage would assist. People expect the road network to be free to use, and quite rightly. How can someone from France, or the North of England, be expected to know about this system?

The tolls should be removed as was promised by the Government years ago, just like they have been on the Severn Crossing and on others.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London


You can “follow” this blog by clicking on the bottom right.


TfL to Lose £1 billion per Year

 “TfL expects £1bn deficit by next year”. That was the headline in an article in today’s Financial Times. Apparently they have seen an internal email written by finance director Patrick Doig that the organisation faced an operating loss of £968 million in 2018/19 which he said was “clearly not a sustainable position…”. The deficit in the current financial year is expected to be £785 million this year which shows how rapidly its position is being eroded.

There are several reasons given for this erosion in their financial position – the Mayor freezing public transport fares (estimated cost £640m) did not help, but the big problem is falling revenue from users. Both bus and underground journey numbers have been unexpectedly falling.

Is this because more people are not travelling, e.g. doing internet shopping and working from home? Or is it because they have chosen to travel by bike (usage is growing), or find it is as cheap and a lot more comfortable to call Uber? Or perhaps it’s because some London residents are selling up and moving to the country with house prices peaking in London, or returning to homes in the rest of Europe. Perhaps those French, Polish, Romanian and other residents are worried about their future after Brexit? Perhaps they just got tired of life in London, unlike Dr Johnson who did not have to suffer the mediocre standards in TfL’s public transport provision.

The Mayor has only recently published his Business Plan for the years to 2022/23 (see this article: https://abdlondon.wordpress.com/2018/01/17/tfl-business-plan-mayor-sadiq-khan-wants-more-money/ ). But you can see exactly why the Mayor is so keen to raise as much as £300 million from Londoners via the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) charges. As we have said before, the ULEZ is about money, not about improving the health of the population or cleaning up London’s air.

A comment in the FT article was by Gareth Bacon, London Assembly Conservative Members, who said there was now “serious cause for concern” about Mr Khan’s “cavalier” financial stewardship of TfL.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

You can “follow” this blog by clicking on the bottom right.


Press Release: The Real Reason for the ULEZ – It’s About Money

The Alliance of British Drivers (ABD) has said before that we are suspicious about the reasons given for the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in London. The proposed measures, particularly the extension to within the North/South Circular, seemed disproportionate to the likely benefits from reductions in air pollution. This is particularly so, bearing in mind that emissions from vehicles are rapidly falling, as newer vehicles replace older ones.

Now we know the truth!

In April 2017 we asked for information on the financial budgets for the ULEZ – the likely costs and income the Mayor would get. The request was refused and we eventually had to appeal to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). We have now received the requested data following a judgement in our favour. These are the figures received from Transport for London (TfL):

  • Implementation costs: £38.4 million.
  • Operating income and costs:
  • Impact of introduction of ULEZ on income (£m) over 5 years 2017/18 to 2021/22 inclusive. (+ve is net increase in income): £55.3 million.
  • Impact of introduction of ULEZ on costs (£m) over 5 years 2017/18 to 2021/22 inclusive. (-ve is net increase in costs): -£12.7 million.

But these figures make absolutely no sense as against the figures we have calculated for operating income based on data provided in the ULEZ consultation documents. For example we estimate income over five years as being £313.6 million rather than £55.3 million.

In reality TfL may be making a profit over five years of £300.9 million for a capital investment of £38.4 million. At a stroke Sadiq Khan will solve his budget problems with the ULEZ implemented.

The Mayor has great financial difficulties, as is apparent from his recently published budget for the next few years, where he begs for more financial support from central Government. But he surely will not need their support with this scheme in place, even though he does not have the funds to do it without more borrowing.

Just like the central London Congestion Charge (a.k.a. Tax), where charges were later raised (more than doubled), thus making it a very profitable for TfL, once the infrastructure, such as cameras are in place for the ULEZ, charges can then be raised. The scheme can also be extended way past when traffic air pollution ceases to be a problem, thus potentially introducing more general road pricing.

Will the health benefits outweigh the costs of the scheme to Londoners? The answer is no because they are only valued at £7.1 million over 5 years. This duplicity in justifying the ULEZ on health grounds, which few are likely to oppose, when the real reason may be to fund his empire, is surely typical of Mayor Sadiq Khan’s approach to politics and democracy. Who does not want cleaner air? But there are lots of ways to improve air quality from transport and other sources, without imposing such enormous costs on road users.

To remind readers, the ULEZ charge for non-compliant cars will be £12.50, imposed 24/7, and enormous numbers of people will need to buy new cars to avoid this cost.

Readers should make sure they oppose the extension of the ULEZ by responding to this public consultation before the 28th February: https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/environment/air-quality-consultation-phase-3b/?cid=airquality-consultation

More Information 

Our full analysis of the costs and benefits of the ULEZ are contained in this document: http://www.freedomfordrivers.org/Cost-of-the-ULEZ.pdf

The ULEZ proposals are part of the Mayor’s Transport Strategy which the ABD is vigorously campaigning against – see this web page for more information: http://www.freedomfordrivers.org/against-mts.htm

The unnecessary delays and obstruction by TfL in responding to the ABD’s reasonable request for information on ULEZ costs is documented in this blog post: https://abdlondon.wordpress.com/2018/01/09/press-release-tfl-forced-to-disclose-ulez-costs/

Our views on the ULEZ proposals and how the Mayor is scaring Londoner’s unnecessarily about air pollution and health are documented here: https://abdlondon.wordpress.com/2017/11/30/panicking-londoners-consultation-on-ulez-extension/

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