More Taxes on Car Drivers, and Londoners in General

I covered the TfL bail-out deal that Sadiq Khan agreed with the Government in a previous blog post. As usual the Mayor blames the Government. So he says today: “The Government is, in effect, making ordinary Londoners pay the cost for doing the right thing on Covid-19”. He also said: “This deal is a sticking plaster. The old model for funding public transport in London simply does not work in this new reality – fares income will not cover the cost of running services while so few people can safely use public transport. Over the next few months we will have to negotiate a new funding model with Government – which will involve either permanent funding from Government or giving London more control over key taxes so we can pay for it ourselves – or a combination of both”. Yes it looks like the Mayor wants to take more from you in taxes!

See the link to the full announcement below.

To help raise more revenue, the Congestion Charge and ULEZ taxes are being immediately reinstated and the Congestion Charge is to go up a whopping 30% from the 22nd June and the times will be extended to between 07:00 and 22:00, seven days a week. It is suggested this might be a temporary change, but don’t bet on it!

In addition there will be road closures and Heidi Alexander has said “One of the world’s largest car free zones will be created in central London as part of our response to Covid-19”.

This is what Black-cab driver and general secretary of the London Taxi Drivers’ Association (LTDA) Steve McNamara said to the BBC: “ It’s an absolute disgrace –  no one had been consulted about plans to change the use of some roads. Usually you have to consult with the public and businesses – they are using a health emergency to get around the laws to consult people before you do these things. London will grind to a halt even with reduced people. It’s a land grab to exclude Londoners from their roads and to widen pavements for more cycling”.

The ABD certainly agrees with those comments and we have pointed out that the Covid-19 epidemic is being used to introduce an agenda that penalises private travel and reduces your freedom. See the link to the ABD’s press release below.

But it’s not just vehicle users who are going to be penalised. The BBC has said this about the Freedom Pass: “Under the new conditions, children will no longer have free travel across London and restrictions on travel passes for people with a disability or over the age of 60 will also be imposed during peak hours”, although no formal announcement has yet to be made. The Freedom Pass might have been overdue for reform but the Mayor will no doubt blame this on the Government also rather than his own financial mismanagement.

Roger Lawson

Mayor’s Announcement: https://www.london.gov.uk/press-releases/mayoral/statement-from-the-mayor-of-london-regarding-tfl

ABD Press Release: https://www.abd.org.uk/press-release-shapps-announces-2-billion-war-on-drivers/

You can see more details of the proposals from TfL to change London here:  https://tfl.gov.uk/travel-information/improvements-and-projects/streetspace-for-london

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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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Travel in London Survey – How It’s Being Made More Difficult

Transport for London (TfL) have released their latest survey of travel patterns in London.  It’s a mine of statistics but the “spin” put on the data is generally grossly misleading. For example, it says “Londoners and visitors make increasingly sustainable choices for how they get around, choosing to walk, cycle and use public transport”.  Walking and cycling have slightly increased – see comments below, but how is public transport “sustainable”? A high proportion of public transport is buses and diesel London buses are a major contributor to air pollution while air pollution on the London Underground is worse than on London’s streets so how is that “sustainable”? Of course there is no definition of “sustainable transport” in the Report  – it’s simply a way for TfL to claim some things as good and others bad.

Total travel demand in terms of number of trips taken has been flat for the last three years despite the continuing growth in the population. In reality Londoners are choosing to travel less simply because traveling in London has become more difficult. Public transport has become overcrowded while private transport (cars and PHVs) are being discouraged in numerous ways.

Bus journeys declined by 1.8% last year probably due to the same reasons as the decline in use of cars – traffic congestion has slowed journey times, making it quicker to walk in many cases.

Cycling in terms of cycled kilometres rose by 5% it is claimed but still only accounts for 2.5% of all trips despite the massive expenditure on cycle superhighways and other cycling facilities. This figure is also distorted by using distance cycled instead of number of trips by that mode. You can see the data more clearly by looking at this chart from the Report:

Per Person Trip Rate

This shows clearly that cycling has not been growing and any alleged increase is simply down to the growth in the population of London. This is what one person had to say on Twitter: “The same tiny number of people cycled 5% further because the weather was a bit nicer than usual that year; at a cost of £millions to taxpayers, while record numbers of Londoners sleep rough and get murdered. In any other setting this would be surreal: but not in Sadiq Khan’s London”.

The Report also claims success in the Mayor’s objective of promoting more “active travel” such as cycling and walking to make us more healthy. As regards walking the above chart shows how walking has declined over the last ten years. And Figure 5.2 in the Report shows that the percentage of people achieving 20 minutes per day of active travel is basically unchanged in the last ten years.

The big trends over the last ten years have been increases in underground patronage – up 25.6% – and national rail usage – up 41.5%. Which explains why you cannot get a seat on the trains or the underground and during rush hours you’ll either be squeezed into the carriages or can’t even get into the station. This has arisen because of a failure to match public transport provision with the growth in London’s population which incidentally is mainly from immigration as the Report spells out.

Bus journeys declined by 1.7% last year and have actually declined by 0.6% over the last ten years. It seems that nobody likes buses. Perhaps it’s that standing in the cold or rain waiting for a bus or unreliable bus arrival and trip times that puts them off – it certainly does this writer.

Motorised road travel declined slightly in inner and central London but rose slightly in outer London. Londoners are apparently reluctant to give up car use despite the ever increasing restrictions on them. One change though is the use of PHVs (mini-cabs) has risen to offset the decline in private cars. For example it is estimated that as much as 40% of car traffic in central London at certain times is accounted for by PHVs, but their numbers are forecast to fall substantially due to removal of the exemption from the Congestion Charge (a.k.a. Tax) and the new ULEZ tax.

The Report notes how serious road traffic casualties increased last year which shows how the Mayor’s “Vision Zero” strategy is failing. But interestingly it also notes that injuries in the London Underground increased by 6% last year to 3,968 while bus passenger injuries declined by 8.6% to 4,889. These are surprisingly high numbers but still less than those injured in road traffic accidents.

Only 56% of London households have access to a car with an even lower proportion in inner London. But this proportion has not substantially changed in the last ten years (see Figure 4.12 in the Report).

The report gives some data on air pollution and in particular of NO2 emissions which mainly come from transport. This has been falling substantially, particularly in central London, mainly due to changes to newer vehicles in the vehicle fleet. See chart below taken from the Report.

NO2 Trends

The Report goes on to claim an impact from April 2019 from the introduction of the ULEZ in central London but in reality the trends in the above chart will simply have continued so any claim for an impact from the ULEZ is a figment of TfL’s imagination. It is simply too early to claim any impact as reliable data is not yet available. And just to remind you, there is no clear medical evidence of any negative impact of NO2 on human health.

In summary although this TfL Report contains some useful data, it misinterprets the trends in London travel patterns and the impact of the Mayor’s Transport Strategy. Most of the changes in travel trends in London have probably occurred from a rising and ageing population.

The report is very selective in both data reporting and interpretation. For example there is no data on traffic congestion which from most users experience has worsened considerably in recent years. That degradation has taken place from policies pursued by TfL which has meant removal of road space from cycle lane installation, widening of pavements, junction changes, more pedestrian crossings and traffic lights and other negative changes.

However an interesting section of the Report is on future travel demand and possible “Scenarios” in Chapter 14. One of the three scenarios is “Accelerating London” with high levels of population growth and immigration, high housing costs and rising crime rates, i.e. more of the same. A second scenario is a “Rebalanced London” with lower economic growth, a stable population size with actual falls in inner London and a slower pace of life. It sounds positively utopian if you read it. The third scenario is “Innovating London” where there is a focus on more technology both in employment and facilitation of travel. It does not say which the Mayor of London might back however.

Regrettably as with anything the Mayor or TfL issue, the Report is more of a public relations document than an unbiased analysis of the trends in London travel and its causes.  It should be read with caution.

You can find the Report here:

http://content.tfl.gov.uk/travel-in-london-report-12.pdf

It just remains to wish readers of this blog Best Wishes for the New Year and a belated Happy Christmas

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Uber Licence Cancelled in London

Transport for London (TfL) and Mayor Sadiq Khan are terminating Uber’s license to operate in London after deciding they are not a “fit and proper” organisation to run such a service. This cancellation is after a two-month extension to the license to allow a new application to be submitted and previous legal action by Uber. Uber intends to appeal the decision and can continue to operate in the meantime (for the next 21 days only from the 25th November).

Uber provides a service valued by many people in London, and termination would put over 40,000 drivers who operate the service out of a job, many of whom are from immigrant backgrounds. However there are alternative “app” based services as well as traditional black cabs and other phone booking based PHV (mini-cab) services.

The exact reasons for termination seem somewhat trivial as given in the TfL press release – see below. It includes technical glitches in the Uber software that allowed drivers to upload photos to other drivers accounts and hence operate as them. However there is no evidence provided of any harm to passengers that resulted. Such technical issues should be easy to fix.

One has to question whether TfL are attacking Uber, and will attack other operators similarly, purely on the grounds that they are unhappy with the number of PHV vehicles that are now on the streets of London.

Comment: This writer occasionally uses Uber and I have always been happy with the service. I think there will be a lot of irate customers as well as Uber drivers if this decision is allowed to stand. But it will no doubt please their competitors.

TfL Press Release on Uber: https://tinyurl.com/wt47lqv

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More Uber Competition and Scooter Mania in Paris

We reported last month on the launch of Uber competitor Kapten in London. But there is now another called Bolt (formerly called Taxify) that has just launched. The company is backed by SoftBank and claims that it will offer lower fares to passengers and better pay for drivers. More competition might well help consumers of such services but it will no doubt contribute to the traffic congestion in London.

Another likely competitor is Ola who are in discussions with TfL over a licence. Surely what we need is an App that tells us which service is the cheapest, or which will get the driver to us soonest. Now there’s a business idea for someone to take up!

Go to https://bolt.eu/en-gb/ for information on the Bolt service.

Meanwhile in Paris electric scooters are all the rage, but there are many complaints about their use on pavements and about them being abandoned all over the place (several companies offer low cost rentals). The French call them “trottinette”. They are as much a danger to pedestrians as cyclists on pavements as they can go at very fast speeds and are silent. At least one death has been reported.

But they are also dangerous for users. The death of a scooter user was reported yesterday after being hit by a truck.

Paris is looking at regulating their use, but surely we also need such regulations in London?

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Uber Competitor Kapten Launches in London

Uber

Even those of us who own a car occasionally use Uber, other PHV (minicab) services or conventional taxis. Uber has become the dominant player by not just having a slick service with low charges but by spending a lot on promotion. Indeed they have been very successful at consistently losing money despite avoiding local taxes and they still managed to recently list the company on the stock market at a valuation of US$82 billion!

Lyft is one competitor they have in the USA, but there is another one launched in the UK named Kapten (see www.kapten.com/uk ). This is a French company backed by Daimler and BMW. One of their advertising themes seems to emphasise that they will be paying VAT in the UK, unlike Uber, but is that a good idea when that surely means customers will be paying more as a result? But Kapten is still claiming to be cheaper than competitors and they are offering some 50% discounts to attract initial business.

They are also looking for drivers to support the new service with some promotional offerings.

So far as users of such services are concerned, having more competitors, and having services where the supplier loses money doing so can’t be bad for the consumers. So we salute Kapten for wanting to join the traffic jams in central London.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Legal Action Against Mayor by Minicab Drivers

PHV (Minicab) drivers are incensed by the recent steps by the Mayor of London and TfL to make them pay the London Congestion Charge while licensed taxis will continue to receive an exemption. That and the proposed ULEZ charges will threaten the livelihoods of minicab drivers who are relatively poorly paid already. Many will have to give up and end up out of work.

They are supported by the Independent Works Union and have issued a “pre-action” letter to Mayor Sadiq Khan, prior to the launch of a judicial review.

They are also claiming that as most minicab drivers are BAME (black, coloured or from ethnic minorities) while most taxi drivers are white, this is indirect discrimination.

Comment: Such drivers are certainly incensed by this proposed change as I saw at a recent meeting I attended (see https://abdlondon.wordpress.com/2019/02/12/cab-driver-protests-escalating/ ). There does not seem to be any rational reason for treating one set of cab drivers different to another, particularly as the likely impact on the number of PHV drivers in central London is not forecast to change much, which was the justification for the change. It will of course affect some drivers much more than others.

I wish them the best of luck with a judicial review although these are not easy legal proceedings (I have been involved in more than one), and depend on a lot more than the moral arguments.

Could it perhaps be about money rather than traffic congestion, or principles?

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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