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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Shaun Bailey’s Views, Self-Driving Cars and Climate Change

Shaun Bailey, the Conservative candidate to be the next Mayor London, today (24/4/2019) issued the following statement in the Evening Standard giving his views on the Ultra Low Emission Zone, and very reasonable they are too in this writer’s view. Here’s some of what he said:

Shaun Bailey: Expanded Ulez will hurt poorer

Let us agree on one thing: We need to clean up London’s dirty air.

Clean air is a perennial problem for London. My grandparents and parents suffered pea soup fogs. I had headaches in the days of leaded petrol. And today my boy and I struggle with asthma. We need strong action to this killer problem, in central London and beyond.

To his credit, Sadiq Khan has adopted Boris Johnson’s plan for a central Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) and is planning on expanding it to the North and South Circular Roads in 2021. I support the former but have concerns over the latter. Here’s why.

If we’re going to shift people’s behaviour using expensive taxes (and the ULEZ is £62.50 a week) there needs to be an alternative for those without the means to get a new vehicle or pay. The central ULEZ is relatively fair to poorer Londoners because central London is well served by cheap public transport. It is also home to the worst pollution.

Zones 1 and 2 also have the necessary enforcement infrastructure in place; cameras already police the congestion charge, so using the same tools to enforce a central ULEZ is easy and inexpensive.

The same isn’t true in outer London, where the infrastructure will have to be built from scratch (at a cost of £130 million), and where our transport network isn’t as comprehensive. Hitting Londoners — many of whom are already struggling with the cost of living — with a tax on driving when they simply have no alternative is unfair; especially when there are other ways we can clean up our air. A tax alone won’t do.

Top of the list is greening our fleet of almost 10,000 buses and our army of taxis. Hybrid taxis are now a reality and more and more hybrid or low-emission buses are being rolled out too, but we need to move to zero-emission technologies more quickly than by the current target date of 2037.

Instead of setting up the massive surveillance system we’ll need to make the bigger ULEZ work we should be spending that money expanding our green bus fleet and routes.

To be sure, we need strong action. But in his rush to tax, Mr. Khan risks penalising a critical mass of Londoners — especially poorer Londoners — many of whom simply don’t have the money to change their mode of transport on a dime.


Self-Driving Cars

Another announcement this morning was from UK public company AB Dynamics. Their financial results were very good but it was interesting to read their comments on vehicle technology.

The company specialises in testing systems for major car manufacturers including a range of driving robots, soft vehicle and pedestrian targets and driving simulators. This is just what is needed to test the new Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) and autonomous vehicles (“self-driving” vehicles) that all car manufacturers are now investing a large amount of money in developing.

For example Elon Musk of Tesla recently predicted that his cars will have self -driving capability by mid-2020 – they just need the software upgrading to achieve that he claims. He also promised a fleet of “robo-taxis” by the same date. These claims were greeted by a lot of skepticism and quite rightly. This is what AB Dynamics had to say on the subject in today’s announcement: “There will be many phases to the development of fully autonomous vehicles and we foresee extended periods of time before they can satisfy a significant part of society’s mobility requirements.  There remain significant barriers to adoption including technical, ethical, legal, financial and infrastructure and these challenges will result in the incremental implementation of ADAS systems over many years to come. The ongoing regulatory environment and consumer demand for safety are also driving technological advancements in global mobility requirements and this provides a highly supportive market backdrop to the Group’s activities”.

I can tell you that the ABD is also very wary of self-driving vehicles. None of the vehicles under test offer anything like the reliability needed for fully-automated operation and expecting human operators to take over occasionally (e.g. in emergencies where the vehicle software cannot cope), is totally unrealistic. In other words, even “level 3” operation for self-driving vehicles which requires drivers to take over when needed is fraught with difficulties and offers little advantage to the user because they have to remain awake and alert at all times, something not likely to happen in reality.

Extinction Rebellion and their supporters who have been blocking London’s roads lately seem to want to remove all vehicles from our roads in the cause of reducing CO2 emissions which they claim is the cause of global warming (or “climate change”). I won’t even attempt to cover the latter claims although it’s worth stating that some dispute the connection and that climate change is driven by natural phenomena and cycles. But three things are certain:

  1. Reducing carbon emissions in the UK alone will have negligible impact on world CO2 emissions. China, the USA and other developing countries dominate the sources of such emissions and China’s are still growing strongly due to their heavy reliance on coal-fired power stations for electricity generation. China now produces more CO2 emissions than the USA and EU combined and is still building new coal-fired power stations. The UK now runs much of the time with no use of coal at all and rising energy contribution from wind-power and solar although gas still provides a major source.
  2. Environmental policies in the UK and Europe have actually caused many high energy consumption industries to move to China and other countries, thus enabling the UK to pretend we are whiter than white but not solving the world problem.
  3. A typical example of this approach is the promotion of electric vehicles. A recent article in the Brussels Times suggested that in Germany electric vehicles generate more CO2 over their lifespan than diesel vehicles. The reason is primarily the energy consumed in battery production – for example a Tesla Model 3 battery might require up to 15 tonnes of CO2 to manufacture. Electric car batteries are often manufactured in locations such as China although Tesla produces them in the USA.

In summary the UK and other western countries are being hypocrites and environmental campaigners are demonstrating in the wrong places and for the wrong reasons. The real problem is too many people in this world wanting to move to a high energy consumption lifestyle as we have long enjoyed in the western world. Population control is the only sure way to limit air pollution or CO2 emissions but nobody is willing to face up to that reality. In the meantime we get a lot of virtue signaling from politicians but a failure to tell the public the facts of energy consumption and production. Energy consumption is still growing world-wide and will continue to do so due to demographic changes and the desire for western lifestyles.

Finally just one comment on the Extinction Rebellion demand for a “people’s assembly” or “citizen’s assembly” as it is sometimes called. Is not the parliamentary democracy that we have at present such a system? Or is it simply a case that they want unelected people to decide on future policies? It has been suggested that such an assembly would be chosen at random from the population which hardly seems a very practical idea to me. This demand is a classic example of how muddled the thinking actually is of Extinction Rebellion supporters.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Crossrail and Demonstrations – Disastrous Impact on Mayor’s Budget

The BBC have reported that Crossrail (otherwise known as the “Elizabeth Line”) could be delayed until 2021. A senior source associated with the project has apparently told the BBC that testing of the trains and signalling was proving difficult and none of the new stations on the line are yet complete.

This will cause major problem for Sadiq Khan because the income from passengers on the line was going to help fill the yawning operating deficit of Transport for London (TfL) in 2019-2020. This was already forecast to be a negative £1.44 billion in that year. Or “net revenue expenditure” as TfL prefer to euphemistically call it, when it is a simple case of massive losses where revenue does not even cover operating costs let alone capital expenditure.

TfL expected to get £170 million from passenger fares on Crossrail in the current financial year and £350 million next year (2020-2021). That’s going to have a major negative impact on the deficit in TfL.

The delays to Crossrail are also likely to mean even more capital expenditure than on Crossrail than was forecast in the current financial year – that’s another few billion pounds probably.

Postscript: TfL have subsequently confirmed the central section of the line is likely to open within a 6 month window stretching from October 2020 to March 2021. Losses may be mitigated by running trains between Reading and Paddington from the end of this year. But Bond Street station completion is running well behind schedule.

Demonstrations Not Helping

Much of TfL’s income comes from Bus and Tube fares at present. The current demonstrations by Extinction Rebellion are severely disrupting bus operations and no doubt reducing fare income. As many as 50 bus routes run through Oxford Circus, Oxford Street and Regent Street alone. Is that why the Mayor initially supported the demonstrations but has now changed his tune? The threat to disrupt the Underground services must have been the last straw.

The additional overtime for police officers to control these demonstrations may also be running into millions of pounds which the Mayor will have to pay for.

The Mayor suggests in his latest tweet that his concern is about the safety of the public, but as usual with Sadiq Khan the truth may be otherwise – it’s about money! There is also the problem that the Mayor is up for re-election in May 2020 and by then his financial budget will be looking quite appallingly bad. With no more give-aways possible to bribe the electorate with this time around, he has a real problem!

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Bus Accidents Kill Too Many People

The trade union GMB have complained about the number of people killed or seriously injured by buses on London’s roads. There were 45 people killed and 1,017 seriously injured in the last 5 years, which is certainly a large number which should be tackled.

The GMB, which represents bus drivers, claimed one of the causes is the pressure put on bus drivers to drive fast so as to meet schedules and punctuality targets. They also blamed the culture at TfL. GMB regional secretary Warren Kenny was quoted as saying “Sadiq Khan has to get a grip on the problem he inherited from the past managers who designed the outsourced killing machines that TfL presides over”.

But is the problem as simple as suggested? Many of these accidents involved pedestrians stepping off the pavement in front of buses without looking. Others are cyclists hit by turning buses or being squeezed under the wheels. Other accidents arise from injuries to bus passengers as they are jolted by abrupt braking or turns, or from pedestrians being clipped by bus wing mirrors.

It is possible that drivers are having difficulty in meeting timetables as buses have been slowed by increasing traffic congestion of late. But it seems unlikely that bus drivers are deliberately driving more dangerously. They can be traumatised by accidents to pedestrians so no experienced driver would risk such an accident. Perhaps there is an issue of driver recruitment and education.

But all the above are hypotheses. Clearly more research is needed into the causes of such accidents and how to prevent them. It is an unfortunate fact that when it comes to road traffic accidents, those with little knowledge are all too quick to jump to conclusions without examination of the detailed accidents statistics, and research into specific accidents and their causes.

Roger Lawson

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Air Pollution on the Underground Worse Than Above Ground

The latest report from COMEAP (the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants) shows that travelling on the London Underground may be dangerous to your health.

The air in the London Underground infrastructure is high in PM (particulates, i.e. fine dust). This is because of the generation of dust caused by the friction action of train brakes on wheels and wheels on rails, combined with dust generated by the clothes, hair and skin of the millions of people, in close proximity to each other, using the system. One hour on the underground, a typical exposure time for commuters, is equivalent to standing on one of the busiest London roads for the whole day. The deepest underground lines such as the Northern Line are apparently a particular problem.

This problem has been known about for many years – for example the Institute of Occupational Health reported on the problem in 2003 but very little has been done about it since. Cleaning of some stations and tunnels was tried in 2017 but it was shown that cleaning stations alone had little effect and the exercise seems not to have been repeated.

Little research seems to have been done on the impact of underground workers such as train drivers, although there are filters in drivers cabs which might assist.

Another issue is that the composition of underground dust is somewhat different with high levels of metals such as iron compounds and it is not known if that makes it better or worse in terms of health impacts. The COMEAP paper reports conflicting evidence on that issue. As a result although they conclude there is likely to be some health risk they are unable to quantify it. They encourage TfL to undertake more measurements and more studies on this problem.

Comment: I suggest the Mayor of London imposes a new tax on underground trains to tackle this problem as he has done on road vehicles. Indeed he should probably tax underground passengers to encourage them to walk and cycle instead – you know it will be good for you!

But as the Mayor and TfL run the underground and would have to suffer the taxes, don’t expect this to happen anytime soon.

For the COMEAP report in full, go here: https://tinyurl.com/y7phkqyy

Roger Lawson

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London Travel Trends – Mayor’s Policies Failing Badly

London’s population is still growing rapidly, albeit the rate of growth has slackened slightly of late. That increases the demand for travel in London. A recently published report from Transport for London (TfL) highlights the trends in travel in different modes – see below for a link to the full report. Here’s some of the key points:

The average number of trips per day in 2017/18 was 2.1. That figure has been falling in recent years and is similar to national trends. It probably reflects the difficulties of travel in the UK and in London, the higher cost, the fact that the population is ageing and the increase in remote working and telecommuting.

From 2010 to 2017 the proportion of trips by walking, cycling and public transport in London increased only slightly from 62.6% to 62.7%. The trend to more “sustainable and active” travel modes has actually flattened out in the latest 2 years. In other words, the recent Mayoral policies to get people to change their travel modes to what he wants has been a dismal failure. But the Mayor is not giving up. The Mayor and TfL still believe there is a large scope for mode shift according to the report, but that is surely a figment of their imagination. Based on the data below, the Mayor will no doubt be focussed on getting those who live in outer London to change their ways – you have been warned!

Road traffic in London increased only slightly by 0.1% in 2017. There was no growth in car traffic but LGVs rose by 1.9% probably due to more internet shopping deliveries. The general trend in car traffic levels in London is shown in this chart:

car traffic levels 2017

This probably reflects improved public transport (e.g. more buses that have been heavily subsidised and more underground/rail/tram/DLR services) and the degradation of the road network with fewer and more expensive parking facilities, particularly in central London, in the last 20 years. But note the relatively lower decline in outer London and the fact that since 2013 the decline has ceased in all areas.

The Congestion Charge (a.k.a. tax) in central London is not the cause of the reduction there because inner London has also shown sharp declines to which the Charge does not apply. It might have more to do with increased congestion and hence higher trip times in central and inner London for the reasons given above.

Both bus journeys and underground usage have been falling – bus trips down by 6.5% in 2017 since 2014, and underground trips fell by 1.1% in 2017 although that had grown in previous years. These figures reflect perhaps the high costs of public transport, the overcrowding on the underground and on some bus routes in rush hours and the fact that bus journey times have been slowing due to traffic congestion. It can simply be quicker to walk in central London!

Cycling figures suggest that numbers of trips were unchanged in 2017, but distances travelled were greater suggesting there are more long-distance cycling commuters and more trips in outer London. This might be the result of economic incentives to cycle as public transport fares increased (particularly national rail serving outer London) and more cycle superhighways. Cycle usage as a proportion of overall trips remains low at 2% however despite the massive investment in cycle infrastructure in recent years. Cycling is still relatively unpopular among the elderly, among females and those of a non-white or mixed- race background according to the report.

Walking trip rates have been in decline in London in recent years despite the Mayor’s policies. Young adult walk rates fell by 22% between 2011/12 and 2017/18 for example. The impact of “healthy streets” and “active travel” policies promoted by the Mayor are conspicuously absent from the data in TfL’s report. Free travel passes both for those in education and for the elderly have clearly had a negative impact on walking rates. If the Mayor is serious about encouraging more active travel, that’s surely one hand-out he should cancel.

As an aside, the recent introduction of 16-17 and 26-30 railcards has been promoted as a generous offering to help the young, but is it not just another way to charge less to more impecunious customers and more to the others? Anyone familiar with economics will know that this is a tactic to maximise profits. In the case of railcards, which have time of travel restrictions, it’s also a way to smooth out travel demand and fill those otherwise empty seats at off-peak times.

Another failing Mayoral policy has been that on improving road safety. In 2017 the number of fatalities actually increased to 131 – up 15 on 2016. There were marked increases in pedestrian and cyclist casualties. Overall KSIs also rose in 2017 (by 2%) although that figure might be distorted by changes in casualty reporting. The roll-out of wide area 20 mph zones financed with many millions of pounds of funding from TfL and which was supposed to have a major impact on pedestrian casualties has clearly been very ineffective.

In relation to improved public transport capacity to serve the growing population, that simply did not happen in 2017 – “place kilometres” remained unchanged. That’s surely another Mayoral policy failure and resulted in higher public transport overcrowding. But service reliability on buses and London underground plus DLR/trams did improve. Surface rail was patchy though.

The full London Travel Report Number 11 can be read here: http://content.tfl.gov.uk/travel-in-london-report-11.pdf . It looks like it’s been written by public relations consultants as it presents a positive spin on the data when any detailed reading tells you a very different story.

But in summary it shows how the policies pursued by Transport for London, and by both the current and previous Mayors, have been a dismal failure. Lots of expenditure on the promotion of cycling and walking have not influenced travel behaviour much while expenditure on road safety has been misdirected with negative consequences. Improvements in public transport infrastructure have failed to cope with the increase in population which has been promoted rather than discouraged.

Roger Lawson

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Crossrail – Late and Over Budget As Forecast

Crossrail, that mega-project to link east and west London, is running late and needs more funding to cover the cost. It was supposed to open as the “Elizabeth Line” this week, but it was announced in October that it would be delayed until at least Autumn 2019 and according to a report in the Financial Times: “a number of people close to the project now believe it may not be ready until late 2020”.

After an extra £590m in July and a further £350m was granted to the project in October the cost of the scheme is now expected to be £15.8 billion. But it looks like even more money is probably going to be required.

It’s interesting to look back at what I wrote about this project in October 2004 – yes I have been writing on London transport issues for that long. This is some of what I published then when the forecast cost was only £10 billion, give or take a few billion: “The project review document [from the DfT] actually suggests the real “Net Present Value Cost” may be somewhat less at £8 billion after taking account of contributions from the business community of over £2 billion and other adjustments but that is still an enormous cost. In other words, instead of showing a positive return on the investment, it will show a gigantic loss. To give you some idea of the scale, assuming Londoners are primarily going to pay for it one way or another (through higher public transport fares, as is one suggestion, or through taxes), that means that it will cost London households as much as £3,000 each after taking into account the benefits they gain – so the real cash cost is even higher.

Of course it also ignores the risk that such large projects typically overrun on costs, and that fare revenue is often less than forecast, so the chance of the budget being adhered to is also fairly remote.

One reason why it loses money apparently is because only about a third of trips on the new line would represent new public transport trips – the rest are simply diversions from other rail or bus journeys so there is little financial advantage. But the costs above take into account the time saved by passengers on more convenient trips.

Only Ken Livingstone could have sold this financially disastrous project to the government. Anyone who is familiar with basic economics and capital project evaluation would immediately see that it is fundamentally financially unsound. Any project with a negative Net Present Value like this one would never even be looked at in a commercial environment. One can understand exactly why previous governments over the last 30 years have consistently shelved such a project).”

Well at least I forecast the likely failure to meet even the enormous budget then planned. But it just shows what typically happens with rail projects where construction is very expensive and complex when compared with building roads.

Note that Members of the London Assembly have accused Sadiq Khan of misleading them and the public over the delays to Crossrail and that the delays are due to his mismanagement. He only announced it at the end of August when it is alleged that he knew about it earlier. I wonder when a new opening date will be announced. He’s probably hoping it will before his re-election campaign commences in 2020.

Postscript: A KPMG report has suggested that as much as an extra £2 billion will be required to complete the project. When the Mayor was asked on television if he could give assurances as to when it would be complete and for how much, he said “no”.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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