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: https://data.london.gov.uk/dataset/projections-documentation

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The Tube – The Dirtiest Place in London

The Financial Times ran a full-page article yesterday (6/11/2019) under the headline “The Dirtiest Place in London”. It covered the air pollution on the London Underground and the risks to health. It said “the Tube is by far the most polluted part of the City. Fine particles of dust, metal, skin and clothing fibre have built up in the tunnels over a century of use, leaving a toxic miasma that is stirred up by passenger trains and inhaled by passengers”.

The FT did a survey of some of the central tunnels and found air pollution levels exceeded World Health Organisation guidelines by as much as ten times. The deepest lines were the worst – namely the Central, Victoria and Northern lines. Particulate (PM2.5) levels can be many times that of roadside levels in London – up to 20 times for the Northern line.

This is not a new news as we covered this issue on our blog in January. But the FT article is well worth reading.

Is Mayor Sadiq Khan going to do anything about this soon? Apart from doing some more cleaning it seems not. So while he taxes allegedly polluting car drivers the dangers from other sources are downplayed with little action taken. Perhaps it’s because fixing the problem would cost TfL and the Mayor money whereas motorists are a source of taxation.

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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.

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Londoners May Face £100 For Engine Idling and Decriminalisation of Speeding Offences

London Boroughs may gain powers to fine motorists £100 who leave their engines running under a Bill introduced in the House of Lords. That’s up from the maximum £20 at present. In addition those who run diesel generators when air pollution is high may be banned – Extinction Rebellion please note as they ran a portable generator recently to support a demonstration.

The installation of new ‘combustion plant’ machinery, which includes gas boilers, solid fuel boilers, combined heat cooling and power plant, and stationery generators would only be permitted if the amount of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM) emitted by the plant did not exceed a limit set by the Secretary of State.

These measures are aimed at overcoming the defects in the current Clean Air Act that are ineffective in controlling some pollution when non-transport related emissions are likely to become the majority very soon. Note that the Mayor of London is also looking for more powers in this area but it would surely be better if such powers were given to the boroughs rather than the Mayor.

Comment: these measures are not unreasonable although the impact on air pollution of engine idling is probably minimal even though it causes a lot of annoyance to residents when people park outside their homes and do it. But enforcement is difficult so little practical impact may be the result. See https://tinyurl.com/y2meb4s4 for more details. There is also no mention of wood-burning stoves which are one of the biggest problems at present.

The aforementioned Bill is being introduced in the House of Lords as a private members Bill so progress is not guaranteed. Another Bill being introduced in that way is one to decriminalise speeding offences. That should surely be opposed as it would lead to an even greater number of fines for speeding with the sole motivation of extracting more money from motorists. That is what happened when parking offences were “decriminalised” so that Local Authorities could enforce them. See https://tinyurl.com/sr37oef   for more information

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Press Release: London and Paris Have The Same Problem: Their Mayor

Smog

Paris ‘smog days’ have increased from 5 to 22 per year in the past 4 years as a direct result of the Mayor’s anti-car policies and despite a low emission zone (Ref. 1).

Paris now has fewer cars, but emissions have increased due to more congestion caused by cycle lanes, pedestrianisation and 8000 construction projects. Hamsa Hansal, who owns a fleet of 10 cabs, describes the Mayor of Paris as “a hysteric. Nothing but bicycle lanes and construction sites. Total chaos. Such BS. Traffic jams 24/7” (Ref. 2).

ABD Environment spokesman Paul Biggs said: “It’s well known that increasing congestion increases emissions. This fact seems to have escaped successive London Mayors and the Mayor of Paris, who seem hell-bent on grinding economically essential traffic to a halt – traffic that can’t be replaced by walking and cycling. This results in a vicious circle of increasingly punitive air quality measures against drivers costing orders of magnitude more than even the claimed benefits. It seems that obstructing traffic and raising revenue from drivers takes priority over improving air quality.”

Notes for Editors:

(1) Paris Low Emission Zone (ZCR):

https://www.lez-france.fr/en/information-about-the-critair-vignette/french-environmental-zones-zcr/paris-zone-zcr.html

(2) New York Times – The Greening of Paris Makes Its Mayor More Than A Few Enemies:

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/05/world/europe/paris-anne-hildago-green-city-climate-change.html

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London Air Pollution Alert, or Perhaps Not

This week (on 26/2/2019) Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, issued an “Air Pollution Alert” in a press release (see https://tinyurl.com/yxud56ya ). He claimed that this is evidence of London’s air quality crisis and why we need the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) which will result in Londoners paying millions of pounds in charges.

But if you read further down the press release it says: “This is due to a combination of poorly dispersed local emissions and sustained import of particulates from Germany and France” and he goes on to say this will get worse on Tuesday. But he omitted to mention that the winds from the south are also bringing dust from the Sahara. This was covered in the Financial Times where Alexander de Meij of MetClim is quoted as saying “it is a rare phenomenon because of the Sahara dust” and added that local and European pollution were contributing factors.

Despite all these hysterics, at Wednesday lunchtime, when air pollution was forecast to be “high”, according to the London Air Quality Network it was in reality only “moderate”. The lack of the normal wind and rain in London does not help perhaps but that will change tomorrow.

Readers are reminded that emissions from vehicles are only one contributor to outside air pollution in London and are in decline as they have been for many years. We reported recently on how air pollution on the Underground is much worse and noted how air pollution inside people’s homes is also relatively poor. That was confirmed in a recent report from the University of Texas in the USA where a study of cooking in a typical American home showed high levels of pollutants was the result. Even simply cooking toast raised particle levels substantially.

Meanwhile, you might be surprised to learn that the UK Government is funding activist lawyers ClientEarth through the Foreign Aid Budget – that’s an organisation that has actually been launching legal actions against the UK Government. See this report from the Taxpayers Alliance for more information: https://tinyurl.com/y5aeqdl8

As a result, local councils have been introducing Clean Air Zones with charges on vehicle users, such as the ULEZ in London. But do they have any impact, such as protecting the health of children or anyone else? The answer is no according to this report from the Taxpayers Alliance: https://www.taxpayersalliance.com/there_s_something_in_the_air

The conclusion must be that these impositions are about extracting money from vehicle users rather than a motive of improving health because they will not do so. The Mayor latest scaremongering is just another example of how he is using scare tactics to get people to support the ULEZ.

The Mayor is promoting London as an “Open” city, but perhaps he should try closing it to air pollution from the EU and North Africa. An imitation of King Canute would be appropriate perhaps?

Roger Lawson

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Air Pollution – A Crisis Created by Politicians?

biggs - paul 3

The following article is by Paul Biggs, ABD Director and Environment Spokesperson. It first appeared in Local Transport Today, the magazine for local road traffic engineers.

“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”  H L Mencken

Imaginary might be a little harsh, but exaggerated certainly isn’t. The latest hobgoblin is the air quality ‘crisis’, which is being used to justify more taxes on some drivers in the guise of clean air zones (CAZ) such as the ULEZ scheme in London. If the much-delayed carbon dioxide hobgoblin doesn’t get us, which we were previously using diesel to help slay, then NOx and particulates (dust) certainly will, according to the likes of London mayor Sadiq Kahn.

In fact, London is where the hobgoblin meets the ‘zombie’ statistic in the form of the mayor’s false 40,000 air pollution deaths claim, which has been shot down by the likes of respiratory physiologist Professor Tony Frew, a former member of the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution (COMEAP) (http://tinyurl.com/y7coye43 ). This Frankenstein’s monster of statistical constructs doesn’t refer to real people, but is derived from the estimated 340,000 life years lost by everyone in the UK as a result of an average ‘early death’ of around three days due to air pollution, all things being equal, which in reality they are not.

In fact, there are a number of factors that can influence life expectancy in positive or negative ways. These include the likes of genetics, wealth, lifestyle, diet, environment, medical advances, etc. It’s clear from the increased life expectancy from birth that we enjoy as a developed nation driven by carbon fuels that the balance of all factors is strongly positive in favour of increased longevity.

Professor Frew also points out that just because pollution levels have been made illegal doesn’t mean that they are dangerous. There’s a lack of publicity for the latest report from COMEAP where experts can’t agree on any link between NOx and mortality, and the latest Office for National Statistics data shows that the North-South divide for life expectancy is clearly wealth-related rather than related to air quality.

Dates of birth and death are ‘hard’ data compared to junk epidemiological guesswork. Making people richer, rather than poorer with unjustified taxes, is the best way to make their lives longer and happier.

As for asthma, it was identified by the ancient civilisations of Egypt, Greece and China BC – Before Cars. There are many potential attack triggers for people who are genetically predisposed to asthma and it’s a well-known fact that indoor air quality, where we spend 90 per cent of our time, can be many times worse than outdoors. Also, individuals with compromised respiratory systems are susceptible to spikes in poor air quality due to very specific combinations of weather conditions.

To mayor Khan’s credit, he has recognised the stupidity of wood-burning stoves, which can emit 18 times as much pollution as a modern diesel car and six times as much as a diesel truck. But there is no sign yet of any wood tax or recognition of the impact of the ‘prettiest pollutant’ known as fireworks. It’s ironic that London bus shelters carry posters side-by-side advertising the ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) and firework displays. If there really was an air pollution emergency or crisis, wood-burning stoves and fireworks would be top of the banned list.

Regressive taxes, which is what CAZ charges are, target the less well-off who can’t afford new or newer vehicles. CAZ policies also fail to pass any cost-benefit analysis. Close to home for me personally, but not affecting my Euro 6 car, the planned Birmingham CAZ is projected to provide purely theoretical health and environmental benefits of £38m over ten years against a negative overall cost of £122m. This makes Birmingham’s EU-threatened fine of £60m for failing to tackle levels of air pollution declared illegal (by an EU we were supposed to be leaving) look like a bargain. Additionally, areas outside the Birmingham CAZ are likely to lose thousands of free parking spaces and the 6,000 free parking spaces within the zone could also face charges or restrictions.

UK vehicle emissions have declined significantly over the past 40 years against a background of increased vehicle usage. The fact that urban pollution ‘hot spots’ remain can to a large extent be blamed on deliberate congestion-causing policies, which have been designed to obstruct and slow traffic.

Banning all transport in London, for example, would only reduce particulate levels from the current average 14 micrograms per cubic metre to 12, the worldwide background level being 7 micrograms per cubic metre.

The potential air quality benefits of a ULEZ or CAZ will therefore be insignificant. We should instead be pleased with the significant improvements in air quality that have been achieved thanks to advances in vehicle technology and look forward to continued improvement from reduced vehicle emissions driven by technology.

Our tax- and restrictions-obsessed politicians should recognise the longer, happier lives that people in the UK are enjoying largely due to the economic benefits of carbon fuels. But we won’t be holding our breath waiting for that to happen!

Paul Biggs is environment spokesman for the Alliance of British Drivers. He is a biological sciences graduate and retired cancer researcher.

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