Good News for Londoners, and The Truth About TfL Budgets

As readers probably know, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has run out of money with the result that Transport for London has had to be bailed out by the Government. The Mayor subsequently decided to raise the Congestion Tax by 30% and restrict usage of the Freedom Pass. That’s bad news but one consequence is that the funds provided by TfL to London boroughs for such projects as “Healthy Neighbourhoods” or “Mini-Hollands” will be curtailed.

An article in Local Transport Today (LTT) reports that in a letter to Transport Commissioner, Mike Brown, borough representatives have complained about what this will mean in terms of their operations and their ability to deliver transport projects.

Local boroughs are under great financial pressure from the Covid-19 epidemic because it has resulted in a loss of much of their parking income and PCNs. Now they may lose one of the major sources of funds for transport projects. To quote from the LTT article: “Frost and Jones say there is a risk that boroughs may “no longer be able to assist TfL in delivering the Mayor’s Transport Strategy (MTS) in any meaningful way.  This would be particularly damaging because, as the MTS acknowledges, the boroughs are a key delivery partner as the authorities, which manage the vast majority of London’s highway network. They say a “severe reduction” in borough capacity will also “hamper the opportunity for officers to work with TfL to explore how some of the positive behaviour changes observed on the network in recent weeks (improved air quality, more active travel, reduced private vehicle trips etc) can be locked-in and a ‘new normal’ forged.  This could therefore represent an historic missed opportunity in what is likely to be a very small window of time where people may be open to doing things radically differently”.

The ABD suggests that scrapping projects that involve road closures, reducing road capacity and the expenditure on more cycle lanes which are little used would be a very good idea indeed. We have been campaigning against the MTS since it was launched as it is a misconceived attempt to change travel behaviour, force people to travel as the Mayor and TfL want rather than by their choice, and has never been justified by any cost/benefit analysis.

One example of the new financial limitations was indicated in a note issued by a Lewisham councillor. It said: “Healthy Neighbourhoods – while the lockdown has highlighted how pleasant life can be without traffic, TfL’s parlous finances mean it has halted funding for HNP. The Council is looking at whether and how the plans for Lee Green and central Lewisham can be integrated into some temporary measures we have funding for as part of Covid-19 response that would encourage social distancing, walking and cycling. We expect to be able publish these within the next few weeks”.

It seems neither the Council nor central Government is giving up on wanting us all to walk and cycle everywhere to relieve the pressure on public transport and avoid the close contact and hence infection risk on buses and the underground. But the Mayor’s policy of raising the Congestion Tax and taxes such as the ULEZ will pressure people to stop using cars and move to public transport. It’s simply irrational.

A good letter was published in the Times newspaper on this subject from John Hines who lives in Loughton, Essex. This is part of what it said: “This is bound to push more travellers back on to trains, the Tube and buses, where social distancing is next to impossible. One would hope he has calculated the effect this will have on the R number. He should be held to account, particularly as many of us who travel into London do not live in London and have no say in who is elected mayor”.

The Government has made it plain that it was solely the Mayor’s decision to raise the Congestion Tax and that he should not blame them. They also said this in a note issued on the bail-out: “The settlement for TfL was needed for two reasons. Most important is the significant fall in revenue caused by COVID-19. However, an important secondary factor was the pre-existing poor condition of TfL’s financial position as a result of decisions made over the last 4 years. Combined with significant cost increases and delays to Crossrail, this left TfL in serious financial difficulty even before the public health emergency.

The Mayor has claimed a great success in achieving a reduced operating loss in TfL. But this ignores all the wasted capital expenditure on projects such as Cycle Superhighways and the interest on debt that has risen to record levels. A proper analysis of the financial position of TfL, issued before the epidemic hit, is here: https://abdlondon.wordpress.com/2020/01/17/tfl-business-plan-and-budget-for-the-next-5-years-more-of-the-same/

Is it not time for the Government to step in and take full control of TfL? It is wrong for the Mayor to pursue reckless policies such as his Transport Strategy when there is no financial justification and no democratic mandate for it.

But the Government is actually recklessly encouraging local Councils to “embed new social norms” for travel by restricting vehicle use and encouraging walking and cycling. They want to change the way you wish to travel and to live without consultation and with no justification. That’s not democracy.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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More Taxes on Car Drivers, and Londoners in General

I covered the TfL bail-out deal that Sadiq Khan agreed with the Government in a previous blog post. As usual the Mayor blames the Government. So he says today: “The Government is, in effect, making ordinary Londoners pay the cost for doing the right thing on Covid-19”. He also said: “This deal is a sticking plaster. The old model for funding public transport in London simply does not work in this new reality – fares income will not cover the cost of running services while so few people can safely use public transport. Over the next few months we will have to negotiate a new funding model with Government – which will involve either permanent funding from Government or giving London more control over key taxes so we can pay for it ourselves – or a combination of both”. Yes it looks like the Mayor wants to take more from you in taxes!

See the link to the full announcement below.

To help raise more revenue, the Congestion Charge and ULEZ taxes are being immediately reinstated and the Congestion Charge is to go up a whopping 30% from the 22nd June and the times will be extended to between 07:00 and 22:00, seven days a week. It is suggested this might be a temporary change, but don’t bet on it!

In addition there will be road closures and Heidi Alexander has said “One of the world’s largest car free zones will be created in central London as part of our response to Covid-19”.

This is what Black-cab driver and general secretary of the London Taxi Drivers’ Association (LTDA) Steve McNamara said to the BBC: “ It’s an absolute disgrace –  no one had been consulted about plans to change the use of some roads. Usually you have to consult with the public and businesses – they are using a health emergency to get around the laws to consult people before you do these things. London will grind to a halt even with reduced people. It’s a land grab to exclude Londoners from their roads and to widen pavements for more cycling”.

The ABD certainly agrees with those comments and we have pointed out that the Covid-19 epidemic is being used to introduce an agenda that penalises private travel and reduces your freedom. See the link to the ABD’s press release below.

But it’s not just vehicle users who are going to be penalised. The BBC has said this about the Freedom Pass: “Under the new conditions, children will no longer have free travel across London and restrictions on travel passes for people with a disability or over the age of 60 will also be imposed during peak hours”, although no formal announcement has yet to be made. The Freedom Pass might have been overdue for reform but the Mayor will no doubt blame this on the Government also rather than his own financial mismanagement.

Roger Lawson

Mayor’s Announcement: https://www.london.gov.uk/press-releases/mayoral/statement-from-the-mayor-of-london-regarding-tfl

ABD Press Release: https://www.abd.org.uk/press-release-shapps-announces-2-billion-war-on-drivers/

You can see more details of the proposals from TfL to change London here:  https://tfl.gov.uk/travel-information/improvements-and-projects/streetspace-for-london

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More on Shapps Announcements and ABD Press Release

I covered the announcement of the Governments Covid-19 Transport Strategy in a previous blog post. Here are some further comments:

On the 9th May Grant Shapps, Transport Secretary, said that only 10% of former public transport capacity will be available in some locations if social distancing is to be maintained. It seems likely that will be so for many months even if people are permitted to go back to work. This will clearly cause major problems in London where almost all commuters use public transport such as trains, the underground and buses.

After the Prime Minister spoke on the 10th May, Mr Shapps issued this tweet: “Speaking this evening the PM was clear – if you’re going back to work in a job that cannot be done from home, please avoid public transport if possible. Go by car, or even better, cycle or walk. To help, we’ve announced more than £2bn in the biggest ever boost to cycling and walking”.

An example of how problematic London transport has become is a report in the Times that says Transport for London (TfL) has asked the Government for £2 billion. To quote: “TfL is down to its last £1bn, which is being burnt at a rate of £21m a day — leaving it less than two months from emptying its coffers and illustrating the intense pressure on local authority finances”. The article suggests the Government will attach some strings to any funding.

Mr Shapps was clearly right to point out the public transport capacity problem, but his apparent remedy to get everyone walking and cycling makes little sense. It is a typical view of politicians who can afford to live in central London. But for the vast majority of London commuters who travel many miles to get to work, it’s simply impractical even if they are keen cyclists.

Mr Shapps also justified his proposals by saying the epidemic is a great health opportunity to encourage active travel with the objective to double cycling by 2025. He also proposes to implement at least one “zero emission” city, and argues that one of the few positives will be improved air quality. He actually said there are “more than 20,000 extra deaths a year attributed to NO2 emissions”.

This figure is nonsense. It repeats the past allegation of 40,000 deaths from air pollution in the UK which has been shown to be simply wrong and a corruption of statistical evidence. In reality, there may be a few months shortening of life expectancy from all air pollution sources, a lot of which cannot be removed such as natural sources. But the figure is essentially uncertain and it is clear there are no deaths directly attributable to pollution. To specifically indicate NO2, which mainly comes from transport, as being the problem is also wrong when the Government advisory body COMEAP could not even agree that NO2 contributed to the negative impact on health of air pollution from particulates.

Mr Shapps clearly knows little about air pollution and its impact on health but is using his ignorance to put a positive spin on his actions in response to the transport crisis.

Just to show how there is no direct correlation between traffic levels and air pollution, this is what the London Air Quality Network (LAQN) recently reported: “Levels of the pollutant nitrogen dioxide (NO2) has reduced significantly during lockdown, research from King’s College London has found. Concentrations of NO2 have lowered as much as 55% due to less road traffic. However, levels of PM10 and PM2.5 were higher after lockdown than at any other time in 2020, due to easterly winds and pollutants from northern Europe”. The reduction in NO2 is perhaps not surprising when measurements by the LAQN are often taken at the roadside so will be heavily influenced by adjacent traffic. But as particulates (PM10 and PM2.5) are of much greater health concern you can see that Mr Shapps’ spin on the air pollution issue is somewhat misleading. Other UK cities have also shown no direct correlation between traffic reduction from the epidemic and air pollution – at least to date.

The air pollution problem is much more complex than can be solved by encouraging walking and cycling alone.

To conclude the ABD has issued the following national press release:

Shapps Announces £2 Billion War On Drivers.

Every city in the UK to be made a traffic hell like London.

Grant Shapps today announced £2 billion to supposedly enhance walking and cycling (See Reference 1 below), but when he expounded the detail it was clear that this amounted to yet more gridlock and bullying for motorists of the type we have unfortunately got used to in London (Reference 2).

Pavements will be widened, cycle lanes introduced, roads will be closed – yet Shapps had the effrontery to suggest that a 5% increase in cycling would benefit motorists by reducing congestion. Not if there are 50% less roads, it won’t, Grant. Do the maths.

And while drivers are bullied with ridiculous speed limits, an expansion of electric scooters is simultaneously mooted – devices capable of breaking urban speed limits but which have no effective braking, crash protection or licensing requirements. This shows that road safety is a sham – just an excuse to make driving unpleasant and stressful and so discourage it.

The result is that getting about in any motor vehicle – car, delivery van, tradesman, taxi – in our cities is going to become a total 24/7 nightmare in every city in the UK.

The excuse for this was Coronavirus, but it’s clear that these disgraceful measures will be permanent. Talk about taking advantage of a crisis to reduce people’s freedom. The day after VE Day and we’ve already forgotten why we fought World War 2.

<Ends>

Notes for Editors

(1) £2 billion package to create new era for walking and cycling: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/2-billion-package-to-create-new-era-for-cycling-and-walking

(2) How London got rid of private cars – and grew more congested than ever:

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/feb/11/how-london-got-rid-of-private-cars-and-grew-more-congested-than-ever

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Radical TfL Plan to Remove Road Space from Drivers

When the coronavirus epidemic is over, will transport and traffic in London return to normal? Not if Cycling Commissioner Will Norman of Transport for London has his way.

In an article published by Bikebiz (see link below) he says that TfL is working on a radical solution – a Streetspace Plan. That might include converting general traffic lanes and parking spaces to cycle lanes and installing wider footpaths. Some roads may be restricted to buses and cycles only at certain times of day.

This is not just about providing more distancing space for pedestrians temporarily during the epidemic. It is clearly focussed on what happens after restrictions are lifted with the objective of making permanent changes to the allocation of road space.

In other words, it’s just another attack on the use of motor vehicles led by a cycling enthusiast. There is no justification for such measures and there is no public information available, nor any apparent public consultation proposed.

This is yet another damaging attack on the road network coming out of the Mayor of London’s office. Make sure you oppose it!

Bikebiz article: https://www.bikebiz.com/mayors-streetspace-plan-could-see-cycling-increased-tenfold-post-lockdown/

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The Future of Transport – Government Consultation

E-ScooterThe Government has launched a public consultation on “The Future of Transport”.  This covers the possible future regulation of “micromobility” vehicles such as electric scooters, flexible bus services and “mobility as a service”.

Of particular interest to other road users, and to pedestrians, is the regulation of scooters. Should they be permitted on roads, on pavements or on cycle lanes for example? Should such “vehicles” have a maximum speed limit, be “type approved”, require registration numbers and be licensed, should the users be licensed and required to take a training course, permitted only on lower speed roads, and require riders to use helmets? There are many questions they pose in this area.

It is certainly the case that we need some regulation and urgently as in major cities such as London they are already coming into use despite the fact that they are illegal to use except on private land, i.e. illegal on both roads and pavements. There have already been injury accidents, including one death, reported from the use of scooters on public roads in the UK, and the number of casualties in other countries where they are permitted are already quite high.

It also covers the regulation of self-driving cars, and how trials of such vehicles can be regulated. Mobility as a service is also covered and this relates to the development of new digital platforms to enable innovative transport services combining multiple modes.

As with many Government announcements, it clearly shows a prejudice against cars and private transport in general. It says this in the “Executive Summary”: “Walking, cycling and active travel must remain the best options for short urban journeys”, and “Mass transit must remain fundamental to an efficient transport system”, and “New mobility services must lead the transition to zero emissions”. Not everyone might agree with those statements.

This is an important public consultation for anyone interested in road use, and there is an easy on-line consultation process. There are probably too many questions in it but you can skip a lot of them.

Please respond to the consultation which can be obtained from here:

https://tinyurl.com/s9f7bvp

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TfL Business Plan and Budget for the Next 5 Years – More of the Same

London Road

Transport for London (TfL) have published their Business Plan to cover the next 5 years and a Budget for the next year. The latter has already been approved by the London Assembly.

I shall pick out a few key points from these long documents which are certainly worth reading if you have the time – see https://tfl.gov.uk/corporate/publications-and-reports/business-plan .  Bear in mind that as always, it’s money that drives the political and policy decisions – in this case the apparent desire of the Mayor to build a bigger empire and control more of our lives. So private transport will be discouraged and he wants more money from central Government and from Londoners to fix his self-inflicted budget problems caused by fare freezes, Crossrail delays and reckless expenditure on cycle infrastructure.

The delays to Crossrail and its rising cost run through the whole document like an albatross around the Mayor’s neck. Crossrail is now unlikely to open until 2021 which means £750 million in lost revenue as against that expected, hitting the TfL budget. In addition the delays and extra work means extra costs of up to £650 million and it’s not clear where that money will be coming from. There are very optimistic forecasts in the Business Plan for income from Crossrail – for example £884 million in 2023/24. Will it really be achieved?

Diesel Buses, one of the major sources of air pollution in the capital, are to be replaced to a large extent by 2,000 zero-emission buses by the end of the 5-year business plan period, but the whole fleet will not be zero-emission until 2037. However they will be at least Euro VI compliant soon. There is also a commitment to install 300 rapid Electric Chargers for other vehicles by the end of 2020.

Note that the London bus network has been reduced partly due to falling passenger numbers and income no doubt but there is also a reduction in central London offset by increases in outer London.

TfL Transport Commissioner Mike Brown reiterates the commitment to Vision Zero to reduce road casualties despite the fact that the policy has had negligible impact to date – see a previous blog post on that subject. He also commits to tripling the amount of “protected” Cycling space which will mean more underused cycle lanes. But he is also committing to make 73 junctions safer which may assist cyclists.

Despite cutting operating costs, one of the few good things reported, there will be deficits of £307m, £493m and £513m in TfL (after “capital renewals”) for this year and the two following ones and barely break-even in 2022/23. As a result the Mayor will have to substantially increase borrowing to cover that and large amounts of capital expenditure for both Crossrail and other network improvements. That includes £2.2 billion this year and next year, followed by £1.2 billion each year in subsequent years. Total borrowing will reach £12.3 billion within 2 years. None of this is being spent on the road network of course other than some maintenance.

So far as the road network is concerned, the maintenance of road surfaces including the repair of pot-holes has been reduced in the last two years which the documents concede has caused a deterioration in road assets. However there is a commitment to “gradually restore the condition of highway assets, with a focus on those that contribute more to walking, cycling and public transport” whatever that means. Does that mean they will fund repairs to bus lanes but not the rest of the road?

On Hammersmith Bridge whose closure is causing major problems in West London, the document only says that £25 million has been allocated to pay for preliminary work but no contract will be awarded to repair the bridge until Spring 2020 and it might take several years to complete the work. It is unclear where the money required will come from. The Rotherhithe Tunnel will be refurbished within the next 5 years – cost of around £140 million, and work done on the A40 Westway. Work on the Silvertown Tunnel should commence in 2020 and complete by 2025.

As regards the ULEZ, the Budget document finally discloses some financial figures. In 2018/19, the ULEZ will contribute most of the £215 million improvement in operating income in the current year, but with implementation costs of £58 million, i.e. a net £157 million which is somewhat more than previously forecast (see   https://tinyurl.com/y4w6pwuk ). As the Budget document only covers the year 2019/20 and no details are provide in the Business Plan the impact of the extension of the ULEZ to the North/South Circular is not apparent but the Mayor clearly intends to push ahead with that (assuming he gets re-elected).

The Business Plan indicates that fares income is expected to rise at around RPI which ignores the fact that Sadiq Khan has already promised to continue to freeze public transport fares if he gets re-elected, at least for 2020. So the Business Plan may be totally unrealistic.

In summary the Business Plan and Budget demonstrate an incompetent Mayor and senior management at TfL who wish to get us all cycling, walking or using public transport while the road network gets worse. This results in more traffic congestion and more air pollution which most Londoners would prefer them to fix. The persistent financial mismanagement by the Mayor will also come home to roost sooner or later.

A good example of the result of his policies is actually shown in a photograph of an east London street in the Business Plan document. A long queue of traffic in one lane with the bus lane unused and few cyclists in the cycle lane! See above.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Leon Daniels Promotion of Cycling, and Vision Zero Failing

OnLondon have published a very interesting talk by Leon Daniels  – see link below. He was the former Managing Director of Surface Transport for TfL and “acted extraordinarily quickly” to implement the Cycle Superhighways. Indeed he suggests that he might have barged them through without properly considering the views of all interested parties and assessing the outcomes properly.

The reason he gives for their implementation was to cut the number of cyclist deaths on London’s roads and to tackle the air quality issue by encouraging more cycling. But he concedes that the cycling infrastructure has had a negative effect on bus speeds and “indeed for all traffic”.

His solution to end the war between different kinds of road users is a “self-healing” city although it’s not totally clear what he means by that.

Comment: Cycle superhighways and other cycling infrastructure have not cut cycling deaths and cycling is still very much the interest of a small minority so the reallocation of road space to them has had negligible impact on traffic. Indeed it has caused more traffic congestion and hence more air pollution. It was clearly a poorly thought through policy with unintended consequences.

You can read Mr Daniel’s talk here:

https://www.onlondon.co.uk/leon-daniels-london-cycling-and-the-self-healing-city/

Vision Zero is one of the policies being pursued by TfL to reduce road casualties. It promotes traffic speed reduction among other things. We have commented previously on how ineffective it has proved to be – see https://abdlondon.wordpress.com/2019/07/29/mayors-vision-zero-strategy-failing/

Now there is similar evidence from the USA. Vision Zero is aimed at reducing deaths and serious injuries to zero, but in major US cities who have adopted the strategy they are far from achieving their target. In fact cyclist and pedestrian casualties in the USA have been increasing and the figures for individual cities show there are very mixed result. See https://www.citylab.com/newsletter-editions/2019/11/citylab-daily/602455/ and here  https://www.motorists.org/blog/do-vision-zero-programs-equal-more-traffic-accidents/ for details.

Vision Zero was a policy invented in Sweden in 1997. To quote from an OECD report on accident figures in Sweden: “The longer-term trend for road deaths in Sweden has been downwards trending. Between 2000 and 2018, the number of annual road fatalities fell by 45%. However, the trend in the decline of traffic fatalities has stagnated since 2010. The road fatalities total for 2018 is actually a 21.8% increase on 2010’s total”. It would seem that the policy is failing in Sweden also now.

Comment: Vision Zero is probably failing because it is like all simplistic road safety policies pursued by well-meaning but ignorant politicians. Having an objective which is widely publicised without a clear view on what measures will actually achieve it in the long-term is not helpful. Vision Zero seems to be diverting road safety resources from what is known to work to policies that don’t.

Roger Lawson

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