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

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Unblock the Embankment and City Transport Strategy

A campaign named “Unblock the Embankment” (see https://unblocktheembankment.co.uk/ ) have published a report that says the Cycle Superhighway on the Embankment is costing the capital £5.3 million per year. The Embankment was reduced from two lanes to one on some stretches to accommodate the Superhighway (CS3) in 2016. Not only did that create enormous traffic congestion due to the necessary road works, but ever since there has been increased congestion on that route which has added very substantially to journey times on this key East-West route. The increased congestion has also made air pollution on that route substantially worse when Upper/Lower Thames Street was already one of the worst pollution hot-spots (which of course cyclists have to breathe).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There are few viable alternative routes for the many commercial vehicle users which affects thousands of businesses. The route is used by cyclists but their numbers are only significant during rush hours and alternative routes could have been devised for them. This was one of the most damaging changes to the road network in London ever devised. But Sadiq Khan thinks it’s a great success which just shows you how misinformed he is.

Please support the “Unblock” campaign.

The Unblock campaign has also pointed out that the City of London’s Transport Strategy which aims to reduce traffic within the City will cause more vehicles to use this key East-West route through the City. I attended a meeting in the City on Friday 30/11/2018 to complain that the Corporation’s officers do not seem to be listening to our objections to their proposals. They still refused to listen on the basis that many respondents to their consultations supported their proposals. Indeed the audience present was hardly typical of the hundreds of thousands of people who work in the City, or those who have to service them. There is an on-line consultation which you can respond to here: https://www.citystreets.london/questionnaire/age-check but bearing in mind the way such surveys are designed to get the intended answers, it may be better, and simpler, to just send your comments directly to this email address: strategic.transportation@cityoflondon.gov.uk

But will the consultation results be honest? It is possible to submit multiple responses to this consultation from the same IP address so it is likely to be manipulated by pressure groups. Likewise multiple emails could be sent to the above email address (many people have more than one).

Here are suggestions for submissions on the “Key Proposals” (focussed on the consultation survey questions):

Proposal 2. There should be no prioritisation of transport modes. All road users are equal and provision for different modes should be based on rational cost/benefit analysis and the demands of different users, i.e. provision for pedestrians should not automatically take priority over other road users.

Proposal 11. There should be no general policy to reduce road traffic which is essential to the working of the City and for the convenience of the public. Road traffic is already quite low in the City during most of the day due to past restrictions on access. It is not necessary to reduce it further.

Proposal 14. I am opposed to reduction in parking. Parking provision is essential for many vehicle users and reducing it just causes them to drive around looking for a space creating more congestion and air pollution.

Proposal 17. Keeping pavements free of obstructions is a laudable aim but does drinking outside pubs really cause a problem when it is a long tradition in the City?

Proposal 20. Vision Zero sound like a good objective but in reality is unlikely to be achievable. Limiting vehicle speeds to 15 mph is particularly objectionable as it is both impractical and won’t be adhered to. Even if enforced it will be no more effective than the 20-mph limit has been. It will also slow traffic and increase journey times. There is no cost/benefit justification for such a proposal.

Proposal 24. Too much money is already been spent on cycling provision as opposed to the needs of other road users (e.g. vehicles and pedestrians).

Proposal 29. I am opposed to a Zero Emission zone as it will impose enormous costs on vehicle owners and have very little benefit in terms of reducing air pollution. It is also impractical for some vehicle owners to purchase such vehicles, e.g. for HGVs because they are simply not available.

Proposal 38. Reducing freight vehicles is not possible without imposing very high costs on businesses. Where is the cost/benefit analysis? Where are the practical alternatives? Cargo bikes are not a practical solution for most purposes.

Proposal 41. Reducing the impact of construction is a laudable objective but this has been proposed in the past with no great result.

MAKE SURE YOU RESPOND TO THE CITY’S CONSULTATION NOW!

Roger Lawson

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Lambeth – A Failure of Road Safety and Transport Policy

The London Borough of Lambeth have published their draft Local Implementation Plan (LIP) for Transport. As previously reported, all London boroughs have to prepare one to accord with the Mayor’s Transport Strategy. Lambeth is a notoriously anti-car borough and the document shows how past policies have failed in many respects. That includes on improving road safety and providing an efficient transport network.

Lambeth claims that their road safety policies have been successful in reducing accidents. This is the chart showing KSIs (Killed and Seriously Injured) in the borough since 2005 from their report:

Lambeth KSIs 2017

The report suggests the last two years data (coloured in orange) should be ignored because there was a change in the definition of a “serious accident” which has not yet been factored in. But slight injuries increased from 1,173 in 2005 to 1,301 in 2015 which rather suggests that there is some other explanation. That increase has occurred despite the fact that a 20 mph speed limit was imposed on all but a very few borough roads – the result was a really big reduction of 0.8 mph on the average speed of traffic on borough roads!

Indeed if you look at the KSIs broken down by type of road user, the figures for 2016 and 2017 show substantial increases in accidents involved pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists as a proportion of all accidents. In other words, encouraging people to use cars less and cycle more is likely to have increased overall casualty numbers.

Lambeth is one of the most densely populated London boroughs with significant immigration over many years. Population growth is expected to continue. The public transport network is under severe strain. Average bus speed in the borough is only 8.3 mph and train services severely congested – for example on the Northern Line there are 4 standing people per square meter in the AM peak through the borough!).

What does the Council propose in its LIP to improve matters? This includes:

  • More enforcement of the 20 mph speed limit which is widely ignored, including the wish to obtain powers to do it themselves, and more physical measures (road humps, road narrowing, etc, no doubt).
  • Putting 20 mph speed limits on TfL roads (i.e. all the main roads through the borough except for the South Circular).
  • An aim to reduce car ownership in the borough from 65,600 to 62,400. How will this be done? By ensuring all new housing and other developments will be “car-free”, i.e. no parking provision and by many other measures to discourage car use and make it more expensive, e.g. more bus lanes, more cycle lanes, more permit parking schemes, etc.
  • They will also lobby to extend the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to the whole of London so that all parts of the borough are included within it (the South Circular bisects the borough).
  • They also want “stricter liability laws” to protect vulnerable road users – this sounds like a big threat to all vehicle users.

So it’s going to be more of the same with no attempt to improve the road network or tackle road safety in a way that will likely have a substantial impact.

You can read Lambeth’s LIP and respond to their on-line consultation here: https://www.lambeth.gov.uk/consultations/have-your-say-on-lambeths-draft-transport-strategy .

DO TELL THEM WHAT YOU THINK!

Roger Lawson

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Very High Public Transport Use in London

The Transport Statistics User Group (TSUG) have reported that London went from having the lowest public transport mode share of five selected European cities in 1995 to the highest now – from 25% to 80%. That’s even higher than Singapore for example, although Mayor Sadiq Khan and TfL would like it to be even higher.

Why is the proportion of public transport so high in London? I suggest it is because of relentless attacks on cars and degradation of the road network, accompanied by massive subsidies to buses and to public transport in general from the offer of Freedom Passes to the over 60s and the young. Hardly anyone pays the full public transport fare in London. This lunatic financial arrangement is bankrupting Transport for London and putting enormous financial pressure on local London boroughs who have to cover a lot of the costs. But politicians won’t be honest with the public on these matters.

Sadiq Khan made the matter worse by promising no public transport fare rises so as to get elected, but this false economy is causing local boroughs to raise council tax and cut back on social services really aggressively.

I suspect financial mismanagement will continue unless there is a change of Mayor.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

 

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London is Open, But Should It Be Closed?

This article was originally conceived as one being about the latest increases in transport congestion in London. The last couple of weeks seem to have been much busier than normal with high traffic congestion. In addition public transport has been particularly bad, not helped by the recent strikes on the tube which of course Mayor Sadiq Khan promised to put a stop to in his election campaign. He promised “zero days of strikes”, but perhaps he is too busy trying to tackle rising crime levels in London.

But these transport issues are surely the result of too many people in London with no improvements in the road network to compensate for the rising population and “densification” of the capital. Likewise inadequate public transport capacity has arisen because building new capacity never catches up with the growth in demand and available funding. A substantial part of the population increase has arisen from immigration.

Last Friday the Mayor reiterated his “London is Open” campaign by inviting EU Ambassadors to a meeting at City Hall. The meeting focussed on “Brexit and the welfare of EU communities living in London”. How many people have come from the EU to live in London? About 1 million in fact. That’s not even counting the sons and daughters of immigrants.

The Mayor is then going to visit Berlin and Paris where he will reiterate that London is “open to talent”. I guess that means he is happy to encourage more immigration as he has said before. The “London is Open” campaign was launched with this headline: “Let’s say together – me, you, and thousands of other Londoners – that despite Brexit, London will always be open to the world, proud of our diversity and inclusive to everyone”.

If the Mayor wishes to solve London’s transport problems surely he should be encouraging people to move out of London and discouraging more immigration. London is overcrowded already. We don’t need more people here.

Perhaps Mrs May will welcome Sadiq Khan’s interference in the Brexit negotiations which he is also doing of late and in these meetings, but I suspect not. His policies on immigration are certainly not likely to be of positive benefit to most Londoners even if he thinks they might help him to get re-elected. Immigration might provide useful workers in some roles, but they also add to housing demand where there is gross shortage. They also contribute to congestion on the roads and on public transport while requiring more social services to support them. That includes more police when in fact their numbers have been falling which is a contributor to the rising crime rate in London.

It’s surely time for the Mayor to change his spots, or for us to get a new Mayor who can adopt more rational policies.

Roger Lawson

The views expressed in this article on solely those of the author as applies to all our blog posts.

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