Should the ULEZ and Congestion Charge be Suspended?

Should the ULEZ and Congestion Charge be suspended in London? Bearing in mind that crowded public transport is a good way of spreading the coronavirus and even Sadiq Khan has changed his tune and is advising everyone to stop non-essential travel, would it not be a good idea to encourage people to use private cars and taxis instead?

Using your own vehicle would ensure that you did not come into contact with other people so it is surely a wise move, particularly as traffic levels have reduced and the school run will be non-existent from today. The ABD certainly thinks it is a good idea – we issued this press release to highlight the issue: https://tinyurl.com/rcdoqow . It would enable essential workers to get around in relative safety.

Conservative Mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey supports the idea and has also called for parking charges to be abandoned – see https://tinyurl.com/w7nn8je . But will the Mayor suspend the ULEZ and Congestion Charge? It seems unlikely because the main object of these schemes is to generate money for the Mayor and TfL and they have not reduced congestion or air pollution. Indeed traffic congestion has got even worse since the charge was introduced. It might be simpler and wiser to abandon them altogether!

Postscript: only hours after issuing this post, the Mayor announced the suspension of the Congestion Charge, ULEZ and LEZ.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

You can “follow” this blog by clicking on the bottom right in most browsers or by using the Contact page to send us a message requesting. You will then receive an email alerting you to new posts as they are added.

Electric Vehicle Charging, Beech Street Closure and CAZ Checking

There are many concerns about the practicality of electric vehicles. One major issue in London and other major UK cities will be how those people who park on the street will be able to charge them after all petrol/diesel car sales are banned in 2035, as the Government is proposing. The above photograph shows a typical outer London suburban street (Upwood Road in Lee, part of the proposed Healthy Neighbourhoods scheme in Lewisham). Cars are parked nose to tail during all of the day. Although some houses have off-street parking, the owners frequently have multiple vehicles some of which are parked on the road. In inner London there is typically no off-street parking at all with closely packed terraced houses

There are suggestions that charging points could be located in lampposts and be operated on a commercial basis, or by installing new charging points along the pavement border. Creating such infrastructure would be very expensive though.

Some local authorities such as the London Borough of Hounslow are suggesting that an alternative is to allow residents to trail a cable from their homes over the pavement (this writer has seen one example of this already). But that creates a trip hazard and is only practical if the car is able to be parked within a few feet of the home. As finding a parking space anywhere near can be exceedingly difficult on many roads, that does not seem likely to be a realistic proposition on most roads. Those people who live in blocks of flats would also have problems.

Even if a cable cover is used, or a channel dug in the pavement as has been trialled in Oxford, it still seems to have limited application with significant risks to the public and the cost might be £1,500 per cable for a channel according to a report in LTT.

The compulsory use of electric vehicles and banning of petrol/diesel ones has not been thought through.

Beech Street

The City of London Corporation is pushing ahead with the closure of Beech Street to all but electric vehicles from Mid-March. The Corporation is running some “Drop-in Events” nearby where you can get more information or ask questions on the 18th, 24th, 25th and 27th February.

CAZ Checking

Several major UK cities are now looking at implementing Clean Air Zones (CAZs) that will impose charges on non-compliant vehicles rather like the London ULEZ scheme. Birmingham and Leeds are two such cities which are reasonably well advanced with plans although the actual start dates have not been announced as yet.

The Government has set up a web site at https://www.gov.uk/check-clean-air-zone-charge where you will be able to check whether your vehicle is compliant but there is no central payment system and it seems auto-pay systems where you simply register your vehicle and a fee is charged to your credit card if you enter the zone will not be available as it is in London.

Basically it looks like this will be a very complicated bureaucratic nightmare to know whether you need to pay and how to pay. There is not even certainty that a vehicle that is compliant with one CAZ or the ULEZ will be compliant in another area.

As with the policy to promote electric vehicles, it appears that no consideration of the practicality of such policies has been considered. Perhaps the Government is intent on making driving so complicated that it puts people off doing so!!

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

You can “follow” this blog by clicking on the bottom right.

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

You can “follow” this blog by clicking on the bottom right.

ULEZ Revenue and Benefits – Not As Expected

ULEZ SignTransport for London (TfL) have released some figures for the first six months of the ULEZ scheme (for April to September 2019). The bad news for the Mayor is that the income from the scheme in fees paid by non-compliant vehicle owners and penalty charges is much less than expected.

There was revenue of £31 million from charges paid (12.50 per day for cars, vans and motorcycles and £100 for HGVs and buses). Plus there was £11 million from penalty charges. One driver managed to collect 81 penalty charges but otherwise it is the typically high figure you see from camera enforced schemes where many people don’t realise they have entered the charging zone or forget to pay.

But the overall income of £41 million, equivalent to £82 million per annum, is much less than originally anticipated. Income in the first year was originally estimated to be £174m and costs £47m, producing a surplus of £127m. So the surplus is likely to be a fraction of that originally anticipated at only £35 million. See https://tinyurl.com/y4w6pwuk for the original estimates.

It would seem likely that more vehicle users than anticipated have switched to newer vehicles with the proportion of non-compliant vehicles falling rapidly to only 25% in September. The overall number of vehicles also appears to be falling. The low numbers of non-compliant vehicles means that the income will also fall substantially in the second half of the year thus reducing even further the anticipated surplus so it could be much less than even £35 million. This will put yet another hole in the Mayor’s financial budget for TfL which is already in a dire state.

The good news (at least for those who believe that NOX air pollution is a major health hazard – the ABD does not), is that NOX emissions from road transport in the central zone are estimated to have fallen by 31%. That is probably consistent with the original estimates that there would be a fall in NOX emissions of 17% by 2021 as only about half of such emissions come from road transport and such emissions are falling rapidly anyway as the vehicle fleet is renewed.

Only a small reduction in CO2 emissions is reported, and no figures on particulates (PM) are yet reported. You can read the full TfL report here: https://tinyurl.com/y2h63dxc

The ABD still believes that this is a very expensive scheme that is imposing enormous costs on many vehicle owners with very marginal benefits in terms of air pollution. It is unclear whether NOX actually has any negative health impacts – see our report here that covers the air pollution issue in depth: https://tinyurl.com/yx9bk9kg . We would also like to see some actual measurements of NOX rather than just estimates.

There has never been any proper cost/benefit justification for this scheme but the Mayor no doubt saw it as a means to plug the holes in his TfL budget with the ULEZ tax. In reality it’s going to raise a lot less than anticipated.

Readers should make sure they oppose the expansion of the ULEZ to the North/South Circular in 2021 which will cover many more people.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

You can “follow” this blog by clicking on the bottom right.

Driverless Vehicles, Air Pollution Claims and Scrappage Scheme

Streetwise Vehicle Ed

Residents of the London Boroughs of Croydon and Bromley need to look out from today (24/10/2019) because for the first time, driverless cars will be present on their roads. These will be operated by company FiveAI and may carry passengers but will always have somebody at the wheel ready to take over. These are basically trials run by a consortium named Streetwise.

How will they cope with the problem that London’s roads are very unlike the West coast of the USA where most such trials have been conducted to date. Stan Boland, CEO of FiveAI said “We have lower lighting, higher rainfall and greater density of road users and we also have to deal with erratic, medieval street plans that are nothing like the grid systems of the US”. However these trials are not quite so revolutionary as first appears because they will actually be on a “fixed route” – see  https://tinyurl.com/y4n8zfnq for more details.

Comment: Mr Boland did not even mention the occasional fog and snow. I remain sceptical of the general applicability of this technology when even my very intelligent TomTom satnav sometimes gets lost in central London. There are claims that it might save lives from reduced accidents, but Gill Pratt, CEO of Toyota Research has recently acknowledged that driverless cars might actually kill people. They may reduce accidents overall by removing driver error which is the cause of many accidents, but it seems software errors may still be  problem.

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, has published claims that the ULEZ scheme in central London has reduced air pollution very substantially. He claims roadside NO2 pollution has fallen by 36% in the zone with no increase in the surrounding area. He attributes this to a large reduction in the number of older or polluting vehicles entering the central zone. This is hardly surprising as operators of older LGV vehicles will have found it financially wise to change their vehicles. But the ABD doubts the claims about the actual reductions in emissions which we believe are estimates based on vehicle numbers rather than actual air quality measurements. We have submitted an FOI Act request to obtain more information. There is likely of course to have been some reduction due to renewal of the vehicle fleet over time (newer vehicles generally have lower emissions) and specific changes in the bus fleet and a strong focus on higher polluting commercial vehicles such as HGVs. But many of the pollutants in the air come from other than road transport vehicle sources and much blows in from elsewhere in the central zone.

The Mayor has also announced a £25 million scrappage fund for low-income Londoners. This is aimed at helping them move to less polluting vehicles. Motorists will be able to get up to £2,000 for scrapping older, more polluting vehicles. How many people will be able to take advantage of this scheme? Only a minority in essence because only people who are receiving means-tested benefits or disability allowances will qualify and as the fund is limited in size it may be on a “first come, first served” basis. In addition it’s probably needless to point out that £2,000 does not buy you a new car, and not even a good second-hand one. The conclusion is only people on benefits with cash in the bank to help buy a new vehicle may find it helpful. It’s surely a token political gesture which is what we tend to see from Mayor Sadiq Khan.

The latest scare story about air pollution is that on high pollution days in London it might cause an extra 87 cardiac arrests per year, an extra 144 strokes, and 74 children and 33 adults ending up in hospital with asthma-related issues. This is a claim made by researchers at King’s College London based on a study relating high pollution days to medical events.  NHS England boss Simon Stevens said it was evidence of “a health emergency”. But this is a very simplistic analysis of complex data. Such days might also be very hot ones which are known to trigger medical events. Even the claimed numbers are very small. In London. For every 100 cardiac arrest ambulance call-outs on low-pollution days, they would expect to see 102 on high-pollution days. It’s basically a statistical fraud derived from epidemiology.

Regrettably we seem to be suffering from air pollution hysteria at present. Few people look at the evidence from an unbiased scientific viewpoint and most of the claims made do not stand up to scrutiny by anyone with a scientific background.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

You can “follow” this blog by clicking on the bottom right.

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.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

You can “follow” this blog by clicking on the bottom right.

Mayor Rakes in Money from the ULEZ

The Evening Standard have published some data from TfL on the impact of the ULEZ on vehicles entering central London. The number of “non-compliant” vehicles, i.e. those that do not meet the emissions standards and therefore have to pay, has fallen by 35% since the scheme was launched in April.

Clearly many people are avoiding paying by either driving around the central zone, using public transport, not travelling at all or changing their vehicle. As regards the latter there has been a 9.7% increase in compliant vehicles which represents those who upgraded their vehicle. Many regular business users who work in central London, e.g. van drivers, will have found it is more economic to change their vehicle.

About 75% of vehicles in the central zone are now compliant. What impact has this change had on the air pollution? The report does not say. The ABD suggests it will be very small as pollution comes from many sources, not just vehicles, some blows in from elsewhere and the worst vehicles are buses, HGVs and taxis where change is slow. But it is clearly a big money spinner for the Mayor. In July it was generating about £180,000 every day in taxation to help fill the Mayor’s budget problems – that’s equivalent to £66 million per year.

The ABD has consistently argued that the ULEZ scheme is motivated by the desire to raise more tax, and was sold on false claims about major health impacts from air pollution. Air pollution in London has been falling rapidly, the population has been living longer and air pollution is only a minor problem on a very few roads. See this page for the truth of the matter and a full analysis: https://www.abd.org.uk/air-quality-vehicles-truth/

There was an interesting report in the Financial Times on the 7th September where they used reporters in several major cities to travel around carrying a monitor device and measure air pollution levels. This is what Leslie Hook had to say about London: “When I first moved to London in 2018, I was surprised that friends complained about air pollution. I could see blue skies from my window and admire the clear views over Southwark Bridge as I commuted home” (he previously worked in Beijing). But he complains about the dangerous levels of nitrogen dioxide reported by his measuring device even though there is no scientific consensus that NO2 has any medical danger. Most of his exposure to air pollution was during his commute to work but he says “the biggest surprise was when I hopped on the underground: the air on the tube was terrible”. The device indicated worse air pollution levels there than anywhere else, and particulate levels were very high.

When is the Mayor going to force London Underground to fix this problem? You can guess why he does not because if he taxed the tube he would be paying as the owner. That tells you why he is taxing vehicle owners alone.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

You can “follow” this blog by clicking on the bottom right.