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

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Sadiq Khan and TfL Bailed Out

Blackfriars Bridge at Lunch TimeAfter threatening the Government that TfL would have to make deep cuts to public transport in London unless they came up with some money by the close of yesterday, they did agree a bail-out. But with some conditions attached.

The Government has agreed to provide TfL with £1.5 billion in grants and loans to enable TfL to continue operating for at least a few months. With most of TfL’s income coming from bus and underground fares, the collapse in usage as people avoid public transport in the virus pandemic has resulted in massive losses at TfL which are still continuing. In addition the Mayor’s previous decisions to suspend increases in public transport fares, which he made to ensure election, have been enormously damaging to TfL finances and meant they were already budgeting massive deficits even before the epidemic hit.

The suspension of the Congestion Charge and ULEZ has also not helped, plus the fact that you can avoid paying bus fares by entering through the central door as is now required. Even TfL’s advertising revenue has fallen as advertisers’ budgets have fallen and they won’t pay when far few people are using public transport. With social distancing required, even the capacity of buses and the underground will be severely restricted for some time, even if people can be persuaded to use it.

The details of the agreed deal have not yet been disclosed, but the BBC reported that it includes a commitment to raise public transport fares by inflation plus 1%, two seats on the TfL board and a complete review of its finances. TfL has also committed to run a full service when previously they were cutting to 75%.

Mr Khan as usual blamed the Government rather than his own financial incompetence. This is what the BBC reported as being said by someone in the Mayor’s office: “They have forced ordinary Londoners to pay a very heavy price for doing the right thing on Covid-19 by hiking TfL fares, temporarily suspending the Freedom Pass at busy times and loading TfL with debt that Londoners will pay for in the long run”.

Grant Shapps, Transport Secretary, said it was wrong for the rest of the country to be bailing out Londoners but in fact Londoners who never use public transport will be paying a lot of the bill anyway via the Mayoral Council Tax Precept and in other ways.

What should the Mayor have done instead of running up a large deficit, and what should he do now?

Clearly many TfL projects have been very expensive. Building cycle superhighways has not come cheap and schemes such as Crossrail have very marginal cost/benefit ratios. The Mayor’s office and TfL management costs have also grown as the Mayor built an empire at taxpayer’s expense. It seems likely that a number of projects such as to expand the underground network will now have to be cancelled. Subsidies to bus operations which have been running at about £1 billion per annum could never be justified except by the desire of the Mayor to win popularity and elections.

The Mayor and TfL have actually cut their bus income by introducing road schemes that slowed traffic including buses, thus cutting bus ridership. You cannot solve these problems by simply encouraging cycling. The average distance travelled by a London commuter is 13 miles per day with many travelling much longer distances. That makes it impractical for many people to cycle even if they had an inclination to do so. The danger of cycling puts many people off using it for long journeys. Department for Transport (DfT) figures show that there are 1,139 serious injuries and 29 deaths for every million miles cycled, while for car drivers the figures are only 27 and 2 respectively.

The Mayor and central Government should face up to realities and work on the following:

  1. Free up the road network to enable more commuting via cars/taxis and improve bus services. Stop reducing road space.
  2. Provide more parking facilities at low cost.
  3. Encourage more tele-commuting by investing in broadband services and support.
  4. Encourage businesses to relocate out of congested central London into the London suburbs and elsewhere.
  5. Retail facilities and hotels/restaurants should be relocated similarly.
  6. We should move away from the concentration of businesses and facilities in central London to have a wider distribution so we are not reliant on public transport so much.
  7. Bus and underground services should pay for themselves. Handouts for political reasons (such as the Freedom Pass) should be severely restricted to those who really do need travel support, i.e. those who cannot afford to pay.
  8. The ULEZ and Congestion Charge should be scrapped as they don’t really provide a sensible return on the investment and operating costs. They are simply a financial burden on Londoners with very little benefit.

All it needs is strong and wise leadership from the Mayor of London to get Londoners through the current crisis, but will we get it? It seems unlikely from the current Mayor.

All that is likely to happen is that the TfL deficit will continue to grow after this short-term bail-out unless someone really gets to grips with the underlying financial problems.

P.S. Government announcement here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-grants-transport-for-london-funding-package?   They apparently still think the problems can be solved by encouraging cycling.

Roger Lawson

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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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Shapps Transport Announcements – More Removal of Road Space

I mentioned in a previous blog post how the Covid-19 epidemic is being used as an excuse to close roads and implement other measures that prejudice vehicle drivers – for example by removing road space for cycle lanes. Yesterday Grant Shapps, Transport Secretary, announced a whole raft of national measures that will fund such plans and give local authorities powers to implement them.

You can read the details here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/2-billion-package-to-create-new-era-for-cycling-and-walking . Up to £2 billion of funding will be provided by the Government to support local schemes.

I and many other ABD members consider these proposals totally unreasonable and unacceptable and I have written to my local Member of Parliament, Bob Neill, accordingly – see below. Readers are invited to copy the text, add your own personal comments, and send it to your own MP (you can find their contact details by going here: https://members.parliament.uk/FindYourMP  – don’t forget to add your postal address so they know you are one of their constituents).

Letter text:

Dear Bob,

I have seen and read the announcement made by Grant Shapps on 9/5/2020 entitled “£2 billion package to create new era for cycling and walking”. I acknowledge that there are particular problems created by the Covid-19 epidemic that will impact transport, particularly in London where public transport use is very high. But the epidemic is likely to be a short-term problem whereas it is clear that these measures are intended to herald a long-term change in how we travel.

But the measures proposed are simply irrational and will worsen many of the existing traffic problems that we have. Removing road space to add more cycle lanes, close roads to traffic and widen pavements will actually create more traffic congestion when people should be encouraged to use vehicles where they run no risk of personal contact and virus infection.

By the time such measures can be implemented, the epidemic may well be over but the cycling enthusiasts will not support any reversion to the status quo. The total capacity of roads to transport people and goods is not improved by such measures, just the exact opposite.

Promoting cycling does not in reality enable better “social distancing”, as we have seen in the last few weeks where groups of cyclists often ride close together. I also note that the Government is to support the use of e-scooters and it suggests they may be used on our roads in June when the public consultation on their use has not even concluded. This is jumping the gun on what might be a very negative change in road safety terms.

I am also very concerned about the new Statutory Guidance under the Traffic Management Act which will enable local councils to introduce measures with minimal public consultation and at great speed. We have already seen how Lewisham Council is trying to introduce road closures (a.k.a. “Modal Filters”) with no public consultation whatsoever using Temporary Traffic Orders, despite very strong local opposition. Although Traffic Orders still have to be published, the lack of local newspapers nowadays and local councils’ inability in many cases to provide clear ways for the public to find out what is proposed and comment on it, is undermining democracy. For example, Lewisham Council consistently does not respond to questions on proposed schemes.

The regulations really need to be strengthened to stop councils rushing in measures without proper consideration and with minimal public consultation.

I would suggest that you need to ask Mr Shapps to reconsider his proposals so that unreasonable measures are not pushed through with minimal consideration and public consultation. Encouraging cycling and walking may be meritorious in some ways but there are many people, such as the elderly or disabled, who will never take up cycling and cannot walk very far. The announced proposals effectively try to dictate how people should travel which should not happen in a democracy.

There are many other ways that the Government could have considered to tackle the problem of public transport use in the current epidemic – such as supporting home working (“tele-commuting”), relocation of businesses from congested areas to others, improving the road network, the provision of more parking, and many others. The existing proposals are a very one-sided approach to meeting the known transport problems and will incur great costs with very limited impact.

Please discourage the Government from going down their chosen path.

Roger Lawson

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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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Bus and Underground Usage Collapses While Anti-Car Measures are Promoted

According to figures published by Transport for London (TfL), bus usage is down by 85% from the pre-virus epidemic levels and underground usage is down by 95%. That’s hardly surprising as Mayor Sadiq Khan is now advising people not to use public transport unless they are essential workers travelling to work. That’s a big “U-Turn” from his original comment in March that there was no risk of catching coronavirus on the tube. That was a very ill-advised comment at the time when it was already obvious that it was a highly contagious disease.

It is also causing the deaths of many bus drivers who are exposed to the general public although the Mayor is belatedly taking steps to protect them by limiting access, providing screening and PPE. Meanwhile crowding of people on the underground is still happening as the service has been reduced, partly because underground staff are sick or “self-isolating” (or “under house arrest” as Norman Tebbit aptly called it recently).

Note that income from bus and underground fares provides almost 50% of TfL income so the Mayor has a major financial problem to add to the already high deficit in TfL if the Covid-19 epidemic continues for much longer.

It is very clear that using private cars is a much safer way to travel and that public transport should be avoided but the anti-car and cycling lobbies continue to try and make capital out of the epidemic. The Times reports that roads in built-up areas may be converted into car-free zones to create extra space for joggers and cyclists during lockdown and there is a call for lower speed limits to protect the NHS from having to deal with road casualties. That’s despite the fact that most A&E Units have fewer customers than normal probably because many potential users probably consider them high risk places to visit so are avoiding them.

ABD Spokesman Paul Biggs said: “At a time when vehicle reliant key workers such as mobile carers, NHS staff, delivery drivers etc, are working hard to provide care and keep shops and hospitals supplied, the senseless, shameless anti-driver lobby comes up with ideas to obstruct them in favour of people who aren’t working.

Whether we like it or not, the Government have made it clear that they want people to ‘Stay Home’ as much as possible in order to minimise the spread of virus. Driving a car is the lowest risk form of transport in terms of virus transmission. Jogging and cycling entails heavy breathing outdoors, which is obviously a higher risk. However, it is quite possible for all three to coexist with the common sense and courtesy that is currently being displayed by the vast majority. There is no need for any activity to be banned, including essential car travel, but the roads need to be kept clear for those who actually need to use them rather than being closed for spurious reasons.”

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Police Powers in the Coronavirus Epidemic and Avoiding Public Transport

The Government is encouraging us all to stay at home during the Coronavirus epidemic, and only travel when essential. This is wise advice indeed and certainly travelling on public transport or attending meetings in person should be avoided. It is a pity that London Mayor Sadiq Khan did not promote those rules when the epidemic first became clear instead of advising people that travel on the underground was safe. He has since changed his tune. But this was undoubtedly one reason why London has become a breeding ground for the virus with infections and deaths from the disease much higher there than in most of the country.

To understand why public transport is so dangerous, this is what Matt Ridley, a scientist and writer, had to say in one of his blog posts: “Most infection seems to occur indoors and worryingly quite a lot may have happened within the medical system especially in Italy in the early weeks. According to one study, on tissue paper the virus survives less than three hours, on wood and cloth two days, on glass and banknotes four days and on stainless steel and plastic a week”. In practice therefore just touching a hand hold on a bus or underground train could pass on the infection.

This writer therefore advises everyone to avoid public transport for the duration unless absolutely essential and some precautions are taken. Those people who are especially vulnerable due to age or existing medical conditions should of course not leave their homes at all but “self-isolate” like the Prime Minister whether you have virus symptoms or not.

The Alliance of British Drivers does suggest that using a car is the preferred mode of transport as it will enable you to avoid contact with other people. You just need to take care when refuelling it with petrol or diesel, and subsequently paying (use a contactless card if you can). Wear gloves if possible and wash your hands afterwards. You could also travel by cycle or walk of course but there is then more danger or coming into close contact with other people so more care needs to be taken and those modes are not practical for many trips.

The police seem to have taken a very heavy-handed approach in some cases and are stopping people from driving on what they consider “non-essential” journeys. Fixed penalty notices are being issued when unjustified. This is not what the regulations actually say – see: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2020/350/regulation/6/made

You can leave home and therefore travel for many reasons including taking exercise, and you can certainly travel to work, travel to shop for food or other essentials, to go to a bank or travel to support vulnerable family members. As it’s a lot safer to use a car than catch a bus or train, that should be the preferred mode of transport unless you can walk or cycle.

Some people seem to be using the virus epidemic as a justification for stopping all use of private transport but that is certainly not valid. This is what Mark McArthur-Christie had to say recently in a tweet: “Buses are great – they’re a fine way to get around if (a) there is one and (b) you have time, money and flexibility to spare. But making people use a bus when they have a car is like making them use a launderette when they have a washing machine at home”.

That’s an argument worth remembering.

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