Getting Rid of Cars in London

Bus Jam 208-01-17There was a good article recently in the Guardian by Gwyn Topham entitled “How London got rid of private cars – and grew more congested than ever”. It described in graphic terms how despite falling numbers of cars, congestion has got worse. Part of the problem is that the reduction in private cars, which are almost non-existent in central London now, has been offset by the increase in PHVs (Uber etc) and LGVs delivering internet parcels or doing “just-in-time” deliveries.

Cycle lanes and other reductions in road space have also made matters worse while the Congestion Charge has been totally ineffective in reducing congestion (see this page for our analysis of that costly and ineffective system: https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/congestion.htm ).

The impact of more congestion has hit bus users hard and reduced ridership. Slower buses put people off using them and congestion also means an unreliable service. Traffic speed is now down to about 8 mph.

All of these problems have been caused by poor transport policies in London with unintended consequences. Attacking private car use has been turned out to be particularly pointless and just makes matters worse, as Councillors in Lewisham with their “Healthy Neighbourhoods” scheme will no doubt soon learn if they do not reconsider their proposals.

There is a better way, but the Mayor of London and his transport bosses will not listen because they seem more interested in making money from charging road users than fixing the congestion problem.

You can read the Guardian article here: https://tinyurl.com/yxy8g5lq

Roger Lawson

 

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How to Rack up a £11,970 Bill at the Dartford Crossing

Below is an email we have received from a user of the Dartford Crossing. We have removed the sender’s name for reasons that will become apparent.

“I am in a serious situation financially that within the next month will probably see me lose my house and my family as this I have kept to myself for over a year and now I am at a tipping point with no way to escape.

Here goes…

I live in Kent and work in Essex, so have to go both ways most days using the Dartford Crossing, I was fortunate to have a company car for 3 years prior which was automatically paid for so I never had to worry or even think about paying the Toll, the journey was just the norm.

However personal Tax and Tax on my fuel card led me to no option but to ditch the company car and buy my own car. So I just carried on doing the journeys.

At this point I was also desperately trying to sell my house and purchase a new house, and I had not got a lot of money so was just living month to month.

Then the letters started coming through the door – a £2.50 charge was now £35, and a £5 a day one was now £70. When you get 3 or 4 at once you then all of a sudden get £280, then more and more come through, and that’s when you realise that you have not paid. After years of doing it naturally you just don’t think… I spoke to my company and they said they would put my car onto their auto pay account, but I don’t think they did that for a week or so, so more fines came through.

Now I was in a situation of not being able to pay, as I had so many fines. This is where it gets even more out of hand, as I could not afford to pay so it escalated and all of a sudden it was sent to the courts and ended up with Bailiff company (JBW) pursuing me. Each £2.50 crossing then became £197. The Bailiffs turned up at home so I started to find the money. I took out credit cards so that I could pay the debts as I was getting letters and texts everyday.

Things got even worse just after Christmas when the company removed all private cars off of the scheme, and didn’t tell us until a week later, so that meant more fines…

In total I had 67 crossings (about a month’s worth) not paid … all innocent mistakes as I just didn’t think at the start because I had never needed to pay…

It would have cost £167.50.

I am now having to pay off £11,970.59.

In which £6814.50 is the Dart Charge fees.

And £5156.50 are Bailiff fees.

I have currently paid £4,652.09, without my partner knowing, but because of the pressure this has meant I have fallen into arrears with Council Tax and my mortgage too…

I have to pay another £200 next week otherwise I will break my agreement but I can no longer cope with the pressure of hiding it, and I know I can’t pay it next week so the Bailiffs will be at my door…

To date I have now paid the equivalent of 1860 crossings. It was an innocent mistake now I will lose everything. I wrote to my local MP at the start of all the letters for help, and they only advised to make sure I pay the Bailiff on time.

I am only writing this to warn people that debt spirals, and pressure spirals”.

Comment: This is indeed a sad case and shows the problems that can arise with camera enforced payment systems which the ABD has consistently opposed because of the large numbers of accidental infringements that arise.  This is one good reason (there are several others), why tolls on such crossings should be removed. It is of course worth signing up for the Dart Charge Autopay system if you use the crossing regularly.

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Travel in London Survey – How It’s Being Made More Difficult

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:

Per Person Trip Rate

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.

NO2 Trends

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:

http://content.tfl.gov.uk/travel-in-london-report-12.pdf

It just remains to wish readers of this blog Best Wishes for the New Year and a belated Happy Christmas

Roger Lawson

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Sadiq Khan’s Election Manifesto – Have Your Say

The Labour Party are inviting everyone to have their say on Sadiq Khan’s Manifesto for re-election as London Mayor in 2020. You can read about his achievements to date and submit answers to their questions via this web page: https://tinyurl.com/y29yu999 . It is of course a very biased document like all consultations that Mr Khan presides over, but anyone can respond – you don’t need to be a Labour Party member.

Perhaps the Mayor is short of ideas to ensure he gets re-elected. His last big vote winner was freezing public transport fares but after three years of holding the tide back of inflation in King Canute fashion he has managed to dig a deep hole in Transport for London’s finances which simply cannot continue. Bus services are being reduced as a result while traffic congestion increases. His policies on Congestion Charging and the ULEZ will impose higher costs on many Londoners with minimal public health benefit. He has also clearly failed to tackle rising violent crime and not solved London’s housing problem – indeed his only proposal for the latter is to introduce rent controls which would make matters worse.

But he does admit to increasing the Council Tax Precept (what you pay to the Mayor from your local council taxes) to the maximum allowed. No thanks Mr Mayor. All his other claimed achievements are quite trivial in relation to the problems Londoners perceive as key issues.

All the way through the document, the Mayor emphasises that he has limited powers over many aspects and clearly wants more. But it would be very dangerous to give him more.

Here are some of the questions and how you may care to respond to them (I have only covered those questions that are relevant to transport):

Environment and Climate Change:

Question: How do we take the next steps to clean up London’s air and oversee a massive shift from polluting cars to walking, cycling and electric vehicles at the same time?

Answer: concentrate on fixing the vehicles over which you have control and which are major contributors to air pollution, i.e. diesel buses. You also need to tackle air pollution on the Underground. Otherwise any measures should be justified on cost/benefit grounds and scare-mongering over an imaginary public health crisis as the justification for higher taxes should be stopped. The expansion of the ULEZ to the North/South Circular should be halted and the introduction of more Cycling schemes that create more traffic congestion (and hence air pollution) should be halted.

Transport:

Question: How else can Sadiq make London’s transport system affordable and accessible to all Londoners?

Answer: Stop wasting money on schemes with very poor cost/benefits (such as the proposed Rotherhithe bridge and most of the Cycle Superhighways the finance for which has to come out of public transport fares. He needs to stop spending money and imposing taxes on road users to make the transport system more affordable for everyone. That includes halting the investment in 20 MPH speed limit schemes and cycle schemes that have poor cost/benefits. He should also cease support of road-pricing and workplace parking levies.

Question: What are the future major schemes that Sadiq could focus on delivering?

Answer: The Silvertown Tunnel is one which will be a major benefit for east London. Repairing the Hammersmith Bridge is another for West Londoners. Improving major east-west and north-south road routes such as the Embankment rather than degrading them with 20 MPH speed limits and cycle lanes should be another key objective.

Question: What more can be done to promote walking and cycling?

Answer: Some youth elixirs for the elderly and inform would help and concealing the dangers or cycling is another. That is of course just a witty response to a proposal that is unnecessary and has major disbenefits.

Question: When asking for more powers and devolution from Government on transport issues, where should Sadiq focus his energies?

Answer: Give the Mayor powers to introduce policies to reduce the population of London so as to reduce pressure on the transport, housing and public health systems. Specifically redistribution of business and people out of London and powers to reduce immigration and encourage birth control.

He should also argue for a commitment to devolve more powers to local boroughs so as to avoid TfL dictating local borough policies and more funds financed by central Government to be given to local boroughs solely to be used on improving the road network in London. In addition the Mayor should be given the power to set sensible minimum parking standards for new developments (not maximum ones) in London boroughs.

Those are just a few ideas to help Mr Khan, or indeed his opponents, to get elected.

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Dartford Crossing Charges to be Permanent

Charges have been maintained on the Dartford Crossing despite a previous Government promise to drop them once the bridge had been paid for, which is now long past. They were increased when free-flow charging was introduced but the Charging Order was due to expire in 2020. They are now proposing to make it permanent. See https://tinyurl.com/y4meo6q5 .

The ABD will be putting in an objection but anyone who uses the Dartford crossing should do so also.

It is completely unreasonable for the Government to break a promise on this matter, particularly as tolls on other river crossings such as that at the Severn Bridge have been removed. There is simply no justification for the charges, or their level, at the Dartford Crossing and it’s purely a way for the Government to extract money from road users

Roger Lawson

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Highway Robbery and Leaving London

Highway Robbery CoverGareth Bacon, Conservative Leader on the Greater London Assembly, has published a most interesting document entitled “Highway Robbery – The Case Against Road Pricing in London”.

He makes the case very well and argues that Londoners should have a wide choice about the modes of transport that they use and that car journeys are quite essential for many trips in outer London. He highlights that Mayor Sadiq Khan may be looking at road pricing simply as another way to fix his TfL budget problems.

But it would undoubtedly lead to much higher costs on vehicle owners – perhaps 70% more than they pay in taxes at present very little of which is spent on the road network. Meanwhile public transport users in London are subsidised by over £1 billion per annum. Mr Bacon suggests the Mayor should rule out road pricing in London while committing to spend more on London’s roads. In particular he supports the Mayor’s claim that some of the VED tax paid by London’s drivers should be given to the Mayor but only on condition that it is hypothecated to spend on road maintenance.

The ABD has opposed Sadiq Khan’s stated wish to grab some part of the VED tax take as it might give him control of it and lead to higher tax rates for no benefit. But if it was strictly controlled by the Government on the suggested basis it may be more arguable. But will central Government and the public accept that less money is thereby available to spend on the national highway network?

Surely it would be better to cut out the excessive bus subsidies and the over-generous concessionary fares (payable to everyone even when they can afford the cost) which would easily pay for improved maintenance of London’s roads?

You can read the “Highway Robbery” report here: https://www.glaconservatives.co.uk/uploads/1/1/7/8/117899427/highway_robbery.pdf

Leaving London

Record numbers of people are leaving London according to a report by the Office of National Statistics (ONS). In 2018 some 340,000 residents left London while 237,000 moved in meaning a net loss of 103,000. The national press attributed this to high house prices and a fear of crime. No doubt they contributed but perhaps the congestion on the roads and on public transport is also making London a less pleasant place to live while car owning and public transport costs are rapidly rising.

Sadiq Khan seems to be making matters worse rather than fixing them. The report mentioned above shows some of the negative aspects of what he has done and what he is planning to do. That is surely contributing to Londoner’s giving up on the capital for a better life elsewhere.

Roger Lawson

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Heathrow Airport Expansion, M25 Diversion and HS2

Heathrow Airport has announced a public consultation on its plans to expand by building a third runway. This will require diversion of the M25 into a tunnel over which the new runway will be built.

The western side of the M25 is one of the busiest sections of the national motorway network and has regular congestion at present. The additional traffic generated by the airport expansion plus the construction traffic and the disruption caused by the diversion is surely going to make congestion worse both in the short term and long term.

In addition the additional planes flying in and out of the airport will add to air pollution in the area which is already one of the worse such spots in London. The airport plans “no significant increase in parking at the airport despite the scale of growth” which seems somewhat unrealistic. But they plan to deter people from driving to the airport by introducing a ULEZ charge for most visitors. Effectively folks using vehicles will be targeted as a way to offset the additional emissions from planes.

As regards the general merits of expanding the airport, the ABD has no official stance as there are differing opinions on the subject. But the impact on the M25 and surrounding roads will clearly be negative and should be opposed.

For more information and to respond to the consultation, go here: https://aec.heathrowconsultation.com/

HS2

Boris Johnson, our potential future Prime Minister, is drawing up plans to have an independent review of HS2 which many people oppose. But it is likely to be run by Douglas Oakervee who chaired HS2 between 2012 and 2013. This looks like a future “whitewash” and a sop to those who oppose HS2 on economic and environmental grounds.

Roger Lawson

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