Good News for Londoners, and The Truth About TfL Budgets

As readers probably know, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has run out of money with the result that Transport for London has had to be bailed out by the Government. The Mayor subsequently decided to raise the Congestion Tax by 30% and restrict usage of the Freedom Pass. That’s bad news but one consequence is that the funds provided by TfL to London boroughs for such projects as “Healthy Neighbourhoods” or “Mini-Hollands” will be curtailed.

An article in Local Transport Today (LTT) reports that in a letter to Transport Commissioner, Mike Brown, borough representatives have complained about what this will mean in terms of their operations and their ability to deliver transport projects.

Local boroughs are under great financial pressure from the Covid-19 epidemic because it has resulted in a loss of much of their parking income and PCNs. Now they may lose one of the major sources of funds for transport projects. To quote from the LTT article: “Frost and Jones say there is a risk that boroughs may “no longer be able to assist TfL in delivering the Mayor’s Transport Strategy (MTS) in any meaningful way.  This would be particularly damaging because, as the MTS acknowledges, the boroughs are a key delivery partner as the authorities, which manage the vast majority of London’s highway network. They say a “severe reduction” in borough capacity will also “hamper the opportunity for officers to work with TfL to explore how some of the positive behaviour changes observed on the network in recent weeks (improved air quality, more active travel, reduced private vehicle trips etc) can be locked-in and a ‘new normal’ forged.  This could therefore represent an historic missed opportunity in what is likely to be a very small window of time where people may be open to doing things radically differently”.

The ABD suggests that scrapping projects that involve road closures, reducing road capacity and the expenditure on more cycle lanes which are little used would be a very good idea indeed. We have been campaigning against the MTS since it was launched as it is a misconceived attempt to change travel behaviour, force people to travel as the Mayor and TfL want rather than by their choice, and has never been justified by any cost/benefit analysis.

One example of the new financial limitations was indicated in a note issued by a Lewisham councillor. It said: “Healthy Neighbourhoods – while the lockdown has highlighted how pleasant life can be without traffic, TfL’s parlous finances mean it has halted funding for HNP. The Council is looking at whether and how the plans for Lee Green and central Lewisham can be integrated into some temporary measures we have funding for as part of Covid-19 response that would encourage social distancing, walking and cycling. We expect to be able publish these within the next few weeks”.

It seems neither the Council nor central Government is giving up on wanting us all to walk and cycle everywhere to relieve the pressure on public transport and avoid the close contact and hence infection risk on buses and the underground. But the Mayor’s policy of raising the Congestion Tax and taxes such as the ULEZ will pressure people to stop using cars and move to public transport. It’s simply irrational.

A good letter was published in the Times newspaper on this subject from John Hines who lives in Loughton, Essex. This is part of what it said: “This is bound to push more travellers back on to trains, the Tube and buses, where social distancing is next to impossible. One would hope he has calculated the effect this will have on the R number. He should be held to account, particularly as many of us who travel into London do not live in London and have no say in who is elected mayor”.

The Government has made it plain that it was solely the Mayor’s decision to raise the Congestion Tax and that he should not blame them. They also said this in a note issued on the bail-out: “The settlement for TfL was needed for two reasons. Most important is the significant fall in revenue caused by COVID-19. However, an important secondary factor was the pre-existing poor condition of TfL’s financial position as a result of decisions made over the last 4 years. Combined with significant cost increases and delays to Crossrail, this left TfL in serious financial difficulty even before the public health emergency.

The Mayor has claimed a great success in achieving a reduced operating loss in TfL. But this ignores all the wasted capital expenditure on projects such as Cycle Superhighways and the interest on debt that has risen to record levels. A proper analysis of the financial position of TfL, issued before the epidemic hit, is here: https://abdlondon.wordpress.com/2020/01/17/tfl-business-plan-and-budget-for-the-next-5-years-more-of-the-same/

Is it not time for the Government to step in and take full control of TfL? It is wrong for the Mayor to pursue reckless policies such as his Transport Strategy when there is no financial justification and no democratic mandate for it.

But the Government is actually recklessly encouraging local Councils to “embed new social norms” for travel by restricting vehicle use and encouraging walking and cycling. They want to change the way you wish to travel and to live without consultation and with no justification. That’s not democracy.

Roger Lawson

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.

 

 

Vehicle Excise Duty Reform – HM Treasury Consultation

The Government has announced a public consultation on reforming Vehicle Excise Duty – the tax you pay each year to the Government just for owning a car. If you read the consultation document (see link below), you will find that it is indeed very irrational at present. Rates vary depending on the age of the vehicle, the fuel type and on its CO2 emissions. But vehicles whose initial retail cost was over £40,000 pay more for the first 5 years, and all vehicles pay more for the first year of registration. A summary of the rates is present here: https://tinyurl.com/yawr3vz7

You can see it is exceedingly complex and it’s very difficult to quickly work out what the cost of VED will be on either a new or second-hand car. It is not at all clear what the Government was trying to achieve with the present structure so it is certainly ripe for reform.

There are hints that the objective was to encourage the purchase of those vehicles that produce lower emissions, but then why should one discourage the purchase of new vehicles, which generally emit lower emissions, by having a very high first-year rate? The existing structure also encourages drivers to keep their old vehicles, unless they are registered before 2017. And why impose a higher “first-year” rate when surely very few people will keep a vehicle for just one year from new if they have any sense.

The attempt to reduce carbon emissions by having higher VED rates for higher CO2 emission vehicles is also apparently failing as the average emissions of new cars has been rising.

There is some rationality in having VED relate to fuel consumption, at least if you ignore electric vehicles, because it enables the tax to relate to how wealthy the drivers are. If they can afford to run larger vehicles and pay high fuel costs, then they can probably afford higher VED tax. That’s a sound economic principle where one charges more to those who can afford to pay.

The Government now proposes a granular system based on carbon emissions. That might apply to both older and new vehicles. That makes a lot of sense. But why base it on CO2 emissions rather than the initial price of the vehicle? The Government could raise a lot more money from VED by such a structure. In the current epidemic and economic crisis they are going to need all they can get.

But the Government has this paranoia about reducing transport carbon emissions to zero by 2050, if not sooner. Many people think this is just hysteria, and it leaves the problem unsolved of how to tax electric vehicles. These have just as high total emissions over their lifetime, if not higher, than petrol or diesel vehicles, but the emissions are very high during construction, and lower when being operated – assuming the electricity they consume is mainly generated by renewable resources.

The current VED rate for pure electric vehicles is zero, but hybrid vehicles are another cause for complexity. Some may have very low emissions if only driven short distances whereas others may be more like conventional petrol vehicles.

There is also the problem that continual changes to VED rates baffle consumers and raise objections that one might buy a vehicle based on current rates to later find the tax rate has changed. Retaining current rates for vehicles already registered might be preferred by some but that would result in more complexity for purchasers of second hand vehicles when it is surely time to simplify the whole structure. The solution to the concerns of drivers of older vehicles that they might face an abrupt increase in VED, making such vehicles unsaleable or cause them to be scrapped when they are otherwise perfectly useable, is to ensure that any new rates do not impose an abrupt change on any existing vehicles and that plenty of notice is given of the change.

In summary, this writer would support the reform of VED so that a more graduated rate of tax applies. But the graduation should be based on the initial list price of the vehicle when new. That would be simple to apply and remove any discrimination between different vehicle types. Alternatively it could be based on the weight of the vehicle which would be even simpler to apply and would directly relate to the energy needed to propel the vehicle.

The VED Consultation Note is here (readers are encouraged to submit their own comments): https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/vehicle-excise-duty-call-for-evidence

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.

Shapps Transport Announcements – More Removal of Road Space

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

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

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

Letter text:

Dear Bob,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please discourage the Government from going down their chosen path.

Roger Lawson

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.

 

 

Another Way to Cut Traffic, and Undermine the Road Network

Schemes where local roads are closed to vehicles to reduce traffic have been strongly opposed in boroughs such as Lewisham and Waltham Forest. They create enormous inconvenience to local residents and worse traffic congestion even though the objective is primarily to stop “rat-running” (otherwise known “as drivers taking the most direct and least congested route to their destination” if one wishes to avoid such emotive language).

Residential roads in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham (H&F) have come under extra pressure due to the closure of Hammersmith Bridge. The council tried an experimental scheme of closing Harwood Terrace but at a full council meeting on the 25th February it was decided to halt the closure after over 2,000 complaints were received.

But they are now proposing an alternative approach which is to use number plate recognition technology to prevent all “out of borough” drivers from using streets to the east of Wandsworth Bridge Road. In effect they are putting residents first but buses, taxis and delivery drivers plus electric vehicles will be able to obtain a permit to use the roads. More details are available here: https://www.lbhf.gov.uk/transport-and-roads/share-your-views-sw6-traffic-reduction-plans

H+F Road ClosuresComment: the ABD opposes all road closure schemes as they destroy the road network. We also do not see why local residents should have any special rights over using a road network that is public property. It will also be an enormously bureaucratic scheme and like many other camera enforced schemes, lead to enormous numbers of fines on people who accidentally infringe the regulations.

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.

 

 

Sadiq Khan Trumpets His Achievements

TrumpetWith the election campaigns for Mayor of London now getting started, Mayor Sadiq Khan is trumpeting his achievement in “dramatically cleaning up London’s air”. This is claimed in a press release that the Mayor’s office has issued – see below:

He claims that there has been an almost 100% reduction in the illegal peaks in air pollutions since he became Mayor in 2016. But he actually only quotes figures for NO2 pollution when particulates are probably a lot more significant for health. Indeed it is questionable whether NO2 is a danger at all. He also says that “toxic air is a national health crisis” which is simply untrue – see https://www.abd.org.uk/air-quality-vehicles-truth/

But he highlights the improvements in air quality in Putney High Street, Brixton Road and Oxford Street which have no doubt been helped by the use of electric and other low emission buses on those routes. However most of London’s bus fleet is still diesel-powered.

Neither does the Mayor attempt to separate out the impact of national Government policies on vehicle standards from his own policies. Indeed reading his press release you would think that it was all down to the ULEZ and LEZ bus schemes he introduced when the impact of those schemes is not yet at all clear.

The press release also lauds his planting of 280,000 trees when he actually promised to plant 2,000,000 in his first term (i.e. by now).

The Mayor is certainly good at blowing his own trumpet but less well good at actually publishing the facts about air pollution and its health impacts.

The Mayor’s Press Release is here:  https://www.london.gov.uk/press-releases/mayoral/data-shows-mayors-action-cleaning-up-londons-air

Roger Lawson

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 tab to send us a message requesting. You will then receive an email alerting you to new posts as they are added.

Lewisham Neighbourhood Scheme – Will Traffic Simply Evaporate?

I visited the Council’s “public drop-in event” for the Lewisham “Healthy Neighbourhoods” scheme yesterday. It was so crowded that it was difficult to get a useful conversation with any council staff (I will be sending them some written questions instead), but I did talk to a few of the other attendees who were all opposed to the road closures and the lack of proper consultation.

Display Panel 3 2020-02-06

There were a number of maps and panels on display, including one with a headline title of “Traffic Evaporation” – see above. If you read the detail of the panel it claims only 11% of traffic disappeared from such schemes, but most of it found alternative routes. In the case of Lee Green this will mean more traffic on other minor routes, effectively displacing the problem and affecting other residents. But there will be a lot more on major roads such as the A20, A205 and A2212 thus creating long traffic queues and more air pollution not less.

One amusing answer I overheard in response to a question about emergency vehicle access was that police cars should be able to just “barge through” the barriers. That sounds exceedingly unlikely. Also some emergency vehicles may be able to get through the camera-enforced “bus gate” on Manor Park but I don’t understand how they will get through the other road closures. Delays to ambulances, fire engines and other emergency service vehicles are a major risk to life – see our recent blog post here which covers that issue: https://tinyurl.com/whzxksr . It is simply wrong for Lewisham Council to put in a scheme that introduces such delays.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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

Press Release: Hybrid Cars To Be Banned From 2035

The Government plans to ban sales of new hybrid cars from 2035 along with all petrol and diesel cars. That has been brought forward from the previously planned date of 2040 and will now include hybrid vehicles.

The Alliance of British Drivers (ABD) deplores this over-reaction to the views of the extreme end of the environmental movement. This change in the regulations ignores the whole-life cost in terms of carbon emissions of building, operating and scrapping vehicles. Premature changes will mean more emissions of CO2 not less.

There is also no certainty that by 2035 there will be vehicles available that provide sufficient range, or an adequate network of electric charging points that drivers can rely upon. It will also require a major expansion of the electricity grid to cope with the increased demand. All these changes will impose enormous costs on drivers and the economy, and threaten the very existence of the motor manufacturing industry.

Hybrid vehicles are a good compromise solution to meet the concerns of drivers and ensure that they transition to lower emission vehicles in due course, but this change might actually deter people from buying them. Bringing in tougher regulations might simply ensure that vehicle owners keep their old petrol/diesel vehicles for longer rather than replacing them with new ones, with the unintended consequence that emissions will not fall.

These proposals are part of the Government’s plans to achieve a net-zero carbon target by 2050 which will impose enormous costs on the economy and have no impact on the worldwide emissions. The UK is already a very small part of worldwide emissions and unless major nations such as China and the USA cease using coal in power stations, when they are currently building more of them, there will be negligible impact.

This latest announcement is just another example of “gesture politics” that may kowtow to the whims of environmental enthusiasts in the UK but will in reality have negligible impact apart from inconveniencing the general public.