Getting Rid of Cars in London

Bus Jam 208-01-17There was a good article recently in the Guardian by Gwyn Topham entitled “How London got rid of private cars – and grew more congested than ever”. It described in graphic terms how despite falling numbers of cars, congestion has got worse. Part of the problem is that the reduction in private cars, which are almost non-existent in central London now, has been offset by the increase in PHVs (Uber etc) and LGVs delivering internet parcels or doing “just-in-time” deliveries.

Cycle lanes and other reductions in road space have also made matters worse while the Congestion Charge has been totally ineffective in reducing congestion (see this page for our analysis of that costly and ineffective system: https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/congestion.htm ).

The impact of more congestion has hit bus users hard and reduced ridership. Slower buses put people off using them and congestion also means an unreliable service. Traffic speed is now down to about 8 mph.

All of these problems have been caused by poor transport policies in London with unintended consequences. Attacking private car use has been turned out to be particularly pointless and just makes matters worse, as Councillors in Lewisham with their “Healthy Neighbourhoods” scheme will no doubt soon learn if they do not reconsider their proposals.

There is a better way, but the Mayor of London and his transport bosses will not listen because they seem more interested in making money from charging road users than fixing the congestion problem.

You can read the Guardian article here: https://tinyurl.com/yxy8g5lq

Roger Lawson

 

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

London Road

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roger Lawson

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London Congestion – It’s Only Going to Get Worse

London Population Trend

As anyone who has lived in London for more than a few years probably knows, the population of the metropolis has been rapidly rising. This has resulted in ever worse congestion not just on the roads but on public transport also. The roads are busier, rush hours have extended and London Underground cannot handle the numbers who wish to travel on some lines during peak hours. Even bus ridership has been declining as the service has declined in reliability and speed due to traffic jams.

The Greater London Authority (GLA) has published some projections of future population numbers for the capital and the conclusion can only be that life is going to get worse for Londoners over the next few years.

The current population is about 8.8 million but is forecast to grow to 10.4 million by 2041, i.e. an 18% increase. This increase is driven primarily by the number of births and declining death rates. The relatively high numbers of births in comparison with what one might expect is because London has a relatively youthful population. One can guess this is the case because of the high numbers of migration from overseas which results in a net positive international migration figure while domestic migration to/from the rest of the UK is a net negative, i.e. Londoners are being replaced by immigrants.

But population increase in London does not have to be so. The chart above shows you the trend over the last 100 years and as you can see London has only recently reached the last peak set in 1939. During the 1960s to 1990s the population fell. What changed? In that period there was a policy to reduce overcrowding in London and associated poor housing conditions by encouraging relocation of people and businesses to “new towns”. But when Ken Livingstone took power he adopted policies of encouraging more growth. His successors have continued with those policies and have promoted immigration, e.g. with Sadiq Khan’s “London is Open” policy.

Many Londoners complain about the air pollution in the London conurbation without understanding that the growth in businesses and population have directly contributed to that problem. More people mean more home and office heating, more transport (mainly by HGVs and LGVs) to supply the goods they require, more emissions from cooking, and many other sources. The Mayor thinks he can solve the air pollution issues by attacking private car use and ensuring goods vehicles have lower emissions but he is grossly mistaken in that regard. The problem is simply too many people.

Building work also contributes to more emissions substantially so home and office building does not help. But the demand for new homes does not keep pace with the population growth resulting in many complaints that people have to live in cramped apartments or cannot find anywhere suitable to live at all. Likewise new public transport capacity does not keep pace with the increased demand. There is some more capacity on the Underground but only on some lines and not much while Crossrail which might have helped has been repeatedly delayed.

The economy of London is still buoyant.  But all the disadvantages of overcrowding in London mean that Londoners are poorer in many ways. Those who can move out by using long-distance commuting or relocating permanently thus leaving London to be occupied by young immigrants.

Any Mayor who had any sense would develop a new policy to discourage immigration, encourage birth control and encourage emigration to elsewhere in the UK or the Rest of the World. But I doubt Sadiq Khan will do so because a poorer population actually helps him to get elected.

If Sadiq Khan wanted Londoners to live in a greener, pleasanter city with a better quality of life then he would change direction. But I fear only intervention by central Government will result in any change. In the meantime those who live in London might like to tackle their potential MPs, Greater London Assembly Members and prospective Mayors for what they would do about the problems covered in this article.

Go here for more details of the GLA projections of London’s population: https://data.london.gov.uk/dataset/projections-documentation

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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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Keep The USA Moving

The USA is traditionally where the motor car is king as public transport has been sparse while roads have been built to cope with demand. But it is changing with some cities introducing Vision Zero to improve road safety and policies called “Complete Streets” and “Road Diets”. Vision Zero is well known in the UK as it has been adopted for example in London but with minimal or zero impact (see https://tinyurl.com/y39v6nsy for a previous article on that subject).

Complete Streets are designed to make it easy to cross the street, walk to shops, and bicycle to work. They encourage more walking, cycling and use of public transport. Road Diets involve reducing the number of traffic lanes to provide wider sidewalks (pavements) or the addition of cycle lanes and bus lanes.

Some cities such as New York are also considering introducing congestion charges to cut traffic and reduce congestion.

In other words, US cities are moving in the same direction as cities in Europe and copying London despite the fact that the policies in London have actually increased traffic congestion rather than reduced it and otherwise damaged the transport network. But opposition to such policies is growing. There are particular concerns about the impact on businesses and on access by emergency service vehicles, but there is general opposition to the increased traffic congestion such policies create. This web site covers the issue well and includes a video showing how fire tenders are blocked: https://tinyurl.com/y67gjzjg and emergency service vehicles delayed. It also has an interesting chart showing how the adoption of Vision Zero in Los Angeles appears to have resulted in an increase in pedestrian fatalities.

But opposition is growing. See this web site for a national view (which also includes an interesting note on the Delphi Technique to manipulate public opinion): https://www.keeptheusmoving.com/

In Los Angeles there is a local group opposing such measures who are holding a conference on October 5th – see https://www.keeplamoving.com/ . It’s some years since this writer personally visited Los Angeles but there was horrific traffic congestion then on some freeways and other roads. Reducing road widths to support cycling just seems nonsensical to support a very small proportion of the population when distances people travel to work or to shop is so high. US cities are designed around the use of motor vehicles and the population are not going to change their ways.

I won’t be attending the conference in person but I have submitted a short video which discourages US residents from following the path taken in Europe. Go here to view the video: https://youtu.be/LxEkiycYQ04

Roger Lawson

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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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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.

<End>

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

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