Cutting Rail Fares by One Third

The latest bribe to the electorate from the Labour Party is a promise to cut rail fares by one third. This would be financed by diverting income the Government receives from Vehicle Excise Duty to the railways.

Motorists already pay much more in taxes than are spent on the roads (see https://www.abd.org.uk/road-investment-and-road-user-taxation-the-truth/ ). Railways have been massively subsidised ever since they were nationalised in 1947 – the “privatisation” of the railways has had little impact on that although rail passengers have been paying relatively more of late so as to finance improvement in the infrastructure.

Diverting VED tax to subsidise rail passenger fares will mean big cuts in spending on the roads, leading to even worse traffic congestion. Meanwhile reducing rail fares by one third will have very perverse effects. For example in London and the South-East it will lead to even more long-distance commuting as rail passengers find it cheaper to travel from far afield into the capital.

In summary this proposal is just bonkers economics as resources are diverted on irrational grounds.

Why should rail passengers not pay the real cost of their travel? Anyone who thinks their cost of using a car should not subsidise unrealistic train fares now knows who not to vote for in the General Election.

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Shepherds Bush and Kensington Consultation Responses and TfL Budgets

The Mayor and Transport for London (TfL) have published the results of their consultation on proposed changes to roads in Shepherds Bush and Kensington (Wood Lane, Notting Hill Gate, etc). The proposed changes will increase journey times for road users and hence also increase congestion – see https://tinyurl.com/yzxhb9m8 for our original report. As one person commented on that article: “Another example of the Mayor’s determination to punish the motorist under the misguided ploy of improving air quality. This latest proposal will in fact worsen air quality by delaying traffic flow”.

The TfL Consultation Report also correctly quotes our comments on the consultation where it says the ABD “Was very critical of the online consultation material, branding them a ‘disgrace”. There were no costs given for the scheme and the questions were biased to get the required answers.

There were 5,386 response to the consultation and many people agreed that it would encourage cycling, walking and use of public transport. That’s hardly surprising is it when they realised that private vehicles will be delayed.

The consultation was also biased because there were 58,539 emails sent out to people asking them to respond but it was only sent to “people who use public transport or cycle in the area”. In reality Oyster Card and Contactless customers, so private vehicle owners were excluded.

Even with all this manipulation, they still managed to get 2,151 people who argued that the proposals would cause traffic congestion or delays, and 1,565 people who said the proposals would worsen air quality. There were also particular concerns about the Holland Park area and the removal of trees.

The London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham supported the proposals but Kensington & Chelsea borough have objected. TfL have developed revised proposals which include saving more trees and discussions are continuing. At least this shows how strong local opposition to a scheme can cause TfL to reconsider. But the whole process of TfL consultations is ethically flawed.

You can read the TfL Consultation Report here: https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/roads/wood-lane-notting-hill/ 

Crossrail delays and TfL budget impact

Other news is that TfL have announced that Crossrail (the Elizabeth Line) opening date is to be delayed yet again and it not going to open until 2021. It was originally scheduled to open in 2018. Problems with signalling systems seem to be the cause, and costs are ramping up so it is now likely to come in at over £18 billion. This demonstrates how large rail projects are enormously expensive and are approved with over-optimistic budgets and projected timescales. This is why HS2 should be cancelled now before even more money is wasted on a scheme with a poor cost/benefit ratio.

The additional delay to Crossrail opening will result in another big hole in TfL’s budget because there were many millions of pounds of income expected from fare paying passengers on the new line.

But TfL have devised one way to improve their cash income. They are changing the auto top-up level for Oyster Card users from £10 to £20. This will mean that TfL will be holding much higher balances of customer money than before. The exact impact has not been disclosed but I hope to report more information on this at a later date.

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ULEZ Revenue and Benefits – Not As Expected

ULEZ SignTransport for London (TfL) have released some figures for the first six months of the ULEZ scheme (for April to September 2019). The bad news for the Mayor is that the income from the scheme in fees paid by non-compliant vehicle owners and penalty charges is much less than expected.

There was revenue of £31 million from charges paid (12.50 per day for cars, vans and motorcycles and £100 for HGVs and buses). Plus there was £11 million from penalty charges. One driver managed to collect 81 penalty charges but otherwise it is the typically high figure you see from camera enforced schemes where many people don’t realise they have entered the charging zone or forget to pay.

But the overall income of £41 million, equivalent to £82 million per annum, is much less than originally anticipated. Income in the first year was originally estimated to be £174m and costs £47m, producing a surplus of £127m. So the surplus is likely to be a fraction of that originally anticipated at only £35 million. See https://tinyurl.com/y4w6pwuk for the original estimates.

It would seem likely that more vehicle users than anticipated have switched to newer vehicles with the proportion of non-compliant vehicles falling rapidly to only 25% in September. The overall number of vehicles also appears to be falling. The low numbers of non-compliant vehicles means that the income will also fall substantially in the second half of the year thus reducing even further the anticipated surplus so it could be much less than even £35 million. This will put yet another hole in the Mayor’s financial budget for TfL which is already in a dire state.

The good news (at least for those who believe that NOX air pollution is a major health hazard – the ABD does not), is that NOX emissions from road transport in the central zone are estimated to have fallen by 31%. That is probably consistent with the original estimates that there would be a fall in NOX emissions of 17% by 2021 as only about half of such emissions come from road transport and such emissions are falling rapidly anyway as the vehicle fleet is renewed.

Only a small reduction in CO2 emissions is reported, and no figures on particulates (PM) are yet reported. You can read the full TfL report here: https://tinyurl.com/y2h63dxc

The ABD still believes that this is a very expensive scheme that is imposing enormous costs on many vehicle owners with very marginal benefits in terms of air pollution. It is unclear whether NOX actually has any negative health impacts – see our report here that covers the air pollution issue in depth: https://tinyurl.com/yx9bk9kg . We would also like to see some actual measurements of NOX rather than just estimates.

There has never been any proper cost/benefit justification for this scheme but the Mayor no doubt saw it as a means to plug the holes in his TfL budget with the ULEZ tax. In reality it’s going to raise a lot less than anticipated.

Readers should make sure they oppose the expansion of the ULEZ to the North/South Circular in 2021 which will cover many more people.

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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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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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Silvertown Tunnel Goes Ahead

Transport for London (TfL) have named the Riverlinx Consortium as the preferred bidder for the Silvertown Tunnel. This is the new tunnel to relieve congestion at the Blackwall Tunnels, something that has been desperately needed for some years.

The Consortium is a private finance project backed by several investors. They will get the build costs and the initial maintenance costs from a toll on the users of the both the Silvertown and Blackwall Tunnels. Some vehicles will also be paying an additional ULEZ charge because the tunnels will fall within the expanded ULEZ area.

TfL say they do not have the funds to finance such major projects despite the Mayor of London having an annual budget of over £18 billion, one of the largest for any municipal organisation in the world. Relying on private finance initiative funding has been shown to be one of the most expensive ways to provide public infrastructure in the long-term so this is probably another example of Mayor Sadiq Khan’s financial ignorance. Perhaps it’s a case of TfL being unable to borrow the money to finance the project as they are beginning to look like a basket-case of the first order.

The new tunnel should substantially reduce congestion and cut air pollution from the queuing or standing traffic that happens most days at present. The build contract should be formally awarded in the summer, with completion by 2025. But the Green Party are still opposing it.

Roger Lawson

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Heathrow Airport Plans £15 ULEZ Charge

Heathrow plane

Heathrow airport has announced plans for a charge on some cars and PHVs from 2022. It will apply to those that enter the airport to park or drop off passengers. The charge could be as much as £15 and will be similar to the central London ULEZ charge – in other words focussed on older petrol vehicles and diesels more than 4 years old that are not Euro 6 compliant. Just like the ULEZ, it will apply every day and 24 hours per day. Black cabs will be exempt.

The airport claims this will be used to fund public transport improvements. They also say that road transport is the main source of local air pollution but according to AutoExpress Heathrow Airport had greenhouse gas emissions of around two million tonnes of CO2 in 2017, 1.3 million tonnes of which came from planes taking off and landing.

Comment: It seems exceedingly unlikely that the contribution to air pollution of road vehicles actually going to and from London Airport is significant in comparison with that spewed out by the numerous jet planes taking off and landing. There is also the adjacent traffic with high numbers of HGVs and buses on the M25, M4 and M3 which have nothing to do with the airport and this charge will have no impact on them. Meanwhile the airport is planning to increase flights from the existing runways and wants to open a third runway as soon as possible. If they really wanted to reduce air pollution in this area then they have an easy solution – halt the expansion of the airport.

Penalising those vehicle owners who purchased cars that were perfectly legal at the time is unfair and unreasonable. Diesel cars were encouraged by the Government to reduce CO2 emissions but buyers are now being targeted. Like the central London ULEZ, this scheme just looks like an excuse to raise money from vehicle users by suggesting it will cut air pollution when it will have no significant impact. It’s a pointless gesture which will cost some drivers a great deal.

See here for the press release issued by Heathrow Airport on this topic for more details: https://tinyurl.com/y6qrxtrm

Roger Lawson

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