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:


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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: . 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.


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 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: 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):

In Los Angeles there is a local group opposing such measures who are holding a conference on October 5th – see . 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:

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:

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.


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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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


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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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