More Tax Raising by Sadiq Khan – Changes to the Congestion Charge

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has decided to proceed with his proposed changes to the London Congestion Charge (a.k.a. Tax). Private hire vehicles (PHVs – minicabs including Uber vehicles) will no longer be exempt from the Charge from April 2019.

This change is justified on the basis that congestion will be reduced after the number of vehicles, particularly PHVs has increased substantially in recent years. Now only 50% of vehicles entering the central zone pay the Charge. But how much will the number of vehicles be reduced – about 1% according to TfL.

The fact that taxis (registered black cabs) will continue to be exempt but PHVs will not be is a most peculiar anomaly. A legal challenge may well be mounted over that issue. But taxi drivers are also unhappy with the latest announcement because the Mayor is going to limit the age of such vehicles to 12 years when the current maximum is 15 years.

Another change is that the Ultra Low Emission Discount (ULED) from the Congestion Charge for low emission vehicles is being scrapped and replaced by a new Cleaner Vehicle Discount (CVD). The latter discount will only be available to zero emission (i.e. electric vehicles) from 2021 to 2025 after which no discounts at all will apply.

These changes are going to mean substantial extra revenue to the Mayor and TfL and are surely more about tax raising than the claimed objectives. These changes are simply irrational and will have no impact on either air pollution or congestion in central London.

The ABD has pointed out before that the London Congestion Charge is a totally ineffective solution to traffic congestion and has just turned into a revenue raising scam. See https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/congestion.htm

The ABD, along with many other organisations, submitted objections to the changes which have simply been ignored. See this web page for a more details and a link to the consultation responses: https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/policy/private-hire-charge-exemption/

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How TfL and Local Councils Waste Your Money

On the 17th December I attended a Committee Meeting of the London Borough of Bromley. It can be useful to attend such meetings so as to become familiar with what your local representatives are doing. This meeting was one of the Environment and Community Services Policy Development and Scrutiny Committee called specially to review the proposal for a cycle lane on Crofton Road in Orpington. The proposal to spend £673,000 on this project had been “called in” by Councillor Tony Owen and others after a decision by the Portfolio Holder Councillor Huntington-Thresher to proceed with it. So the Scrutiny Committee had to review the decision.

This cycle lane was originally planned to run all the way from Locksbottom to Orpington Station at a cost of nearly a million pounds. The scheme was reduced in cost when the section from Ormonde Avenue was cut out. Note that the funding to cover the cost of the scheme comes from Transport for London (TfL). As was pointed out in the meeting, this is still taxpayer’s money and councillors need to take care of it.

Councillor Owen spoke against the scheme. He said that Councillor Huntington-Thresher had previously assured us that he would not make decisions that were not evidence-based. He suggested this scheme was being driven by two motives: spending of budget money and the need to encourage switching from using cars to using buses or cycling – but the latter was not credible. He said that it was “overkill” when the council could just paint some cycle lanes on the road. It might result in slower traffic and more air pollution and might disrupt bus timetables. There are possible alternative routes to the Station. He also expressed concern about the impact on emergency service vehicles who had not been consulted.

Councillor Huntington-Thresher responded that they are encouraging cycling but there was slow take up of bikes. Others mentioned that TfL were keen to support this proposal as part of their wider cycling strategy and considered this a key route.

There was discussion of the number of cyclists who might use the route – TfL had forecast 21,000 apparently. But a TfL survey in the summer had shown only 91 cyclists on the road in a day. It was suggested that the forecast usage was simply incredible.

The public consultation on the proposals were also discussed. Over 3,000 consultation forms had been sent out to local residents but only 26 responses were received. Of those 17 were in favour. The Crofton Residents Association Chairman was reported as saying the consultation was “not credible”.

The Scrutiny Committee voted to take no action so the scheme will proceed as proposed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Comment: Yes it’s your money that is being spent by TfL on what seems a totally unjustifiable cycle scheme. Encouraging cycling may be meritorious but I doubt that cyclists are deterred from using this route at present on what is mainly a wide road (see photo above). There was also no apparent case in road safety terms as no accident data was presented at the meeting. It’s more likely the number of cyclists is very low on this route because there is a steep hill from Orpington High Street up to the Station and thereafter west on Crofton Road. Could it be that bureaucrats at TfL just looked at a map and did not actually try cycling the route?

This “eye-watering” expenditure as Councillor Owen called it, is a ridiculous use of public funds when TfL are already running up a major budget deficit. TfL are funding similar schemes all over London in other boroughs as cycling gets funding that is unjustified on any rational basis. It is very unlikely that car users on that route will turn to cycling and the cost per cyclist is simply enormous. The public consultation was also very selective. Were people told how much money it would cost and how few cyclists were currently using the route? I doubt it.

In summary, it certainly seems unwise of councillors to support this expenditure. The cost of £673,000 would be a godsend to hard-pressed council budgets if spent on other things such as social services. TfL is in essence being financially mismanaged by a Mayor, Sadiq Khan, who seems to have no financial acumen whatsoever. That is very apparent from his Transport Strategy for example. He complains about lack of money but wastes money on such schemes as that in Orpington.

Mayor to Spend Even More Money on Cycling

The Mayor has recently announced a “Major Action Plan to Get More Londoner’s Cycling”. This will involve improved standards for cycle routes, a rebranding of Superhighways/Quietways, and a cycling infrastructure database but also undoubtedly more expenditure on cycling provision. See https://www.london.gov.uk/press-releases/mayoral/action-plan-to-get-more-londoners-cycling

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Demonstrations Blocking Roads and Why the Police Do Nothing

The demonstrations that blocked roads and caused gridlock in central London by Extinction Rebellion I covered in a previous blog post – see  https://tinyurl.com/yavgwvlk . Subsequently there have been similar demonstrations on Westminster Bridge and Tower Bridge by “yellow-vest” Pro-Brexit supporters. Clearly the fact that the police took no action on the first event is causing others to copy.

Why did the police take no action? I wrote to Police Commissioner Cressida Dick querying why not as obstruction of the public highway is clearly an offence. I got a response from Chief Superintendent Elaine Van-Orden who is responsible for the “Public Order and Resources Command”. This is some of what she said:

“Whilst highway obstruction is an offence, when policing protest activity, we have an obligation to balance our policing response with those fundamental rights that exist under Articles 10 and 11 of the Human Rights Act 2000 (HRA). These articles relate to the individuals having the right to Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Assembly and Association. As such there is an expectation that individuals should be permitted to exercise these rights by way of peaceful protest. Police can however intervene if there is a likelihood of serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community, resulting from protest activity.”

She goes on to say (summarised) that the Extinction Rebellion protests were peaceful and relatively brief. To arrest in such circumstances might be seen as unreasonable. Event organisers only have to inform the police in advance (under Section 11 of the Public Order Act 1986) if there is a march or procession. Static protests are OK it seems.

I also wrote to the Mayor and Transport for London (TfL) who are responsible for the road network and have legal obligations under the Traffic Management Act to minimise disruption but their response was that all protests are managed by the police so it was nothing to do with them. They are in error I suggest on that point.

I shall be responding further to these communications as I do not believe the Human Rights Act supports the stance of the police. However much some of my readers might support the Pro-Brexit demonstration, London will soon be gridlocked if anyone with a bee in their bonnet on any subject can sit down in the road and block traffic.

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Are the Public Concerned About Cyclists Behaviour?

The public in London are certainly concerned about cyclists’ behaviour. Below are some of the comments noted in the Transport for London (TfL) document just published on “Response to Issues Raised on Cycle Superhighway 4 (Tower Bridge to Greenwich)”:

Cyclist behaviour – Attitude and compliance

Some respondents said they were concerned that cyclists disobey traffic lights. Others raised concerns about aggressive cycling, lack of awareness towards other road users, including pedestrians and disregard to the Highway Code.

Speed

A number of respondents expressed concern over speeding cyclists posing a danger to other cyclists, with some suggesting a cyclist speed limit or physical measures to reduce speeds. Others raised concerns over pedestrian safety due to the speed of cyclists.

Policy

A number of people raised policy issues around cycling including suggesting cyclists are licenced, insured, should pay tax, follow the Highway Code or take a test. Others said it should be compulsory for cyclists to use cycle lanes and that bells on bicycles should be mandatory.

See https://tinyurl.com/yahz3rk2  for the full report, and TfL’s answers to those concerns.

These concerns will surely only grow as electric cycles become more common, enabling cyclists to achieve higher speeds. The other concern is the use of “cargo bikes” that are often very heavy and often also electric powered. A pedestrian being hit by a cargo bike is much more dangerous than being hit by a car at the same speed because they are not designed to protect pedestrians in collisions.

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Life Expectancy Data Says There Is No Air Pollution Health Crisis

There have been many scare stories published about how air pollution in London and other major cities is shortening lives. London Mayor Sadiq Khan certainly believes there is a major public health crisis that he needs to tackle by aggressive measures against vehicle owners. But data published by the Office of National Statistics simply contradicts these claims.

If such claims were true, one would expect to see shorter life spans for people living in those parts of the country where air pollution was known to be bad. For example some of the central London boroughs such as Camden, Westminster and Kensington & Fulham. But in fact the opposite is true. Residents of those boroughs have longer life expectancies than most of the rest of London, or the rest of the country. The Daily Mail has published an article that covers this subject in depth and even suggests that rather than retiring to the country, you can live longer if you move to central London – see link below.

Women born in the London Borough of Camden have the highest life expectancy overall at 86.5 years, with Kensington & Chelsea at 86.2 years. That’s longer than women who live in the outer London borough of Bromley at 85.3 years. Males live somewhat shorter lives but there is a similar advantage to living in the more polluted boroughs.

London as a whole has a life expectancy of 84.3 years for women and 80.5 years for men and expectancy has been rising until very recently – see ONS statistics link below. That compares with 84.0 years and 80.6 years for the wider south-east of the country. Both London and the wider south-east are much better than all other UK regions apart from the south-west. For example, in the north-east the figures are only 81.6 years for women and 77.9 years for men, perhaps negatively affected by working in former heavy industries in that region.

The Daily Mail article contains a useful interactive map so you can see what the figures are for where you live.

Now there are clearly other influences at work on life expectancy such as the quality of local healthcare and the wealth of the local population (wealthier people are known to live longer) but this data demonstrates that air pollution has no measurable impact on life expectancy at current levels even in the most polluted London boroughs. If it did one would expect to see this revealed in the data recently published by the ONS.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s Ultra Low Emission Zone is more about raising taxes on long-suffering vehicle owners than improving the life expectancy of the population.

Daily Mail article: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-6487389/Women-Camden-longest-lives-UK.html

Office of National Statistics Life Expectancy Data: https://tinyurl.com/n6gls4t

Roger Lawson

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National Press Waking Up to ULEZ Impact

The Daily Mail ran a story on the 9th December spelling out the enormous impact that the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) will have on drivers in London. They suggest a million motorists will be paying £12.50 every day once the ULEZ zone is expanded to within the North/South Circular. This could generate as much as £700 million to £1.5 billion a year in revenues for Transport for London (TfL) they also suggested. See the Mail story here (it was also covered by the Sun and the Times newspapers): https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6476639/Londons-new-ultra-low-emission-zone-force-million-motorists-pay-12-50-day.html

But their figures probably do not take into the real impact because TfL have been misleading people about which vehicles will be exempt – see our previous blog article here on that: https://abdlondon.wordpress.com/2018/12/07/press-release-uk-drivers-sleepwalking-into-macron-style-taxes-on-eco-hatchbacks/

Roger Lawson

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Crossrail – Late and Over Budget As Forecast

Crossrail, that mega-project to link east and west London, is running late and needs more funding to cover the cost. It was supposed to open as the “Elizabeth Line” this week, but it was announced in October that it would be delayed until at least Autumn 2019 and according to a report in the Financial Times: “a number of people close to the project now believe it may not be ready until late 2020”.

After an extra £590m in July and a further £350m was granted to the project in October the cost of the scheme is now expected to be £15.8 billion. But it looks like even more money is probably going to be required.

It’s interesting to look back at what I wrote about this project in October 2004 – yes I have been writing on London transport issues for that long. This is some of what I published then when the forecast cost was only £10 billion, give or take a few billion: “The project review document [from the DfT] actually suggests the real “Net Present Value Cost” may be somewhat less at £8 billion after taking account of contributions from the business community of over £2 billion and other adjustments but that is still an enormous cost. In other words, instead of showing a positive return on the investment, it will show a gigantic loss. To give you some idea of the scale, assuming Londoners are primarily going to pay for it one way or another (through higher public transport fares, as is one suggestion, or through taxes), that means that it will cost London households as much as £3,000 each after taking into account the benefits they gain – so the real cash cost is even higher.

Of course it also ignores the risk that such large projects typically overrun on costs, and that fare revenue is often less than forecast, so the chance of the budget being adhered to is also fairly remote.

One reason why it loses money apparently is because only about a third of trips on the new line would represent new public transport trips – the rest are simply diversions from other rail or bus journeys so there is little financial advantage. But the costs above take into account the time saved by passengers on more convenient trips.

Only Ken Livingstone could have sold this financially disastrous project to the government. Anyone who is familiar with basic economics and capital project evaluation would immediately see that it is fundamentally financially unsound. Any project with a negative Net Present Value like this one would never even be looked at in a commercial environment. One can understand exactly why previous governments over the last 30 years have consistently shelved such a project).”

Well at least I forecast the likely failure to meet even the enormous budget then planned. But it just shows what typically happens with rail projects where construction is very expensive and complex when compared with building roads.

Note that Members of the London Assembly have accused Sadiq Khan of misleading them and the public over the delays to Crossrail and that the delays are due to his mismanagement. He only announced it at the end of August when it is alleged that he knew about it earlier. I wonder when a new opening date will be announced. He’s probably hoping it will before his re-election campaign commences in 2020.

Postscript: A KPMG report has suggested that as much as an extra £2 billion will be required to complete the project. When the Mayor was asked on television if he could give assurances as to when it would be complete and for how much, he said “no”.

Roger Lawson

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