Changes to Congestion Charge – PHVs Targeted To Raise Money

The Mayor of London and TfL have announced proposals to change the Congestion Charge (a.k.a. Tax) so as to raise more money. The main change is that PHVs (minicabs) will no longer be exempt from paying this tax. Uber and other drivers will no doubt be up in arms about this and it will mean their clients pay a lot more.

Another change is that the Ultra Low Emission Discount (ULED) which currently applies to vehicles that emit less than 75g/km of CO2 will need to have zero emission capability by 2019 and by 2021 only electric vehicles will qualify. That means that many of the 20,000 vehicles currently registered for the ULED will need to be changed if the owners wish to continue to qualify for the discount.

A Blatant Lie

What’s the justification for these changes? The consultation announcement says that the Congestion Charge “was a huge success”. It claims a reduction in traffic and a 30% reduction in congestion as well as improvements in air quality since it was introduced. These claims are simply spurious. There was a short-term reduction in some vehicles entering the central zone, but the numbers of taxis, PHVs and buses increased. The result was that congestion soon returned to what it was before the tax was introduced and has since got substantially worse. Neither was there any improvement in air pollution which was never expected to happen and did not. See this web page for the facts: http://www.freedomfordrivers.org/congestion.htm

The claims made by TfL are downright lies. But traffic delays have been increasing which is the justification put forward by TfL for the proposed changes.

Why Should Taxis Be Exempt?

One controversial aspect of the original scheme was that registered taxis (black cabs) and PHVs (private hire vehicles) were exempt from the congestion tax. It was never very clear as to why some vehicles should be exempt while others are not. Why should private car occupants pay the charge while people using other vehicles for similar journeys should not? Even more puzzling is why PHVs are now proposed to be taxed while taxis are not. What is the logic of this? Note that the increase in PHVs due to the popularity of services such as Uber has led to many more vehicles entering central London of late and hence have contributed to congestion significantly in the last couple of years. But will the tax now proposed actually reduce their numbers? That is surely unlikely for the same reason that the congestion charge scheme did not reduce congestion. The unsatisfied public demand is such as to soon soak up the capacity released by people unwilling to pay the tax. You cannot solve congestion via taxation!

It’s About Money

The conclusion must be that these proposals are more about raising money for the Budget of Mayor Sadiq Khan. He desperately needs it. See previous blog posts for coverage of that topic.

A Timely Announcement

One might ask why the Mayor chose to announce these changes on a Friday lunchtime when the news channels will be dominated by the Brexit decisions and the England World Cup match for the next 48 hours. This might enable him to escape the opprobrium of PHV drivers for a few hours but not much longer I suggest.

More Information

See this web page for more information and to respond to an on-line consultation: https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/policy/private-hire-charge-exemption/?cid=ccyourviews

You may also wish to tell us how the ABD should respond to the consultation as we will certainly be doing so.

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Traffic Speeds in London – They Are Getting Worse

I was having a clear out today of my office, and I happened to notice a copy of Ken Livingstone’s Mayor’s Transport Strategy dating from July 2001. It made for both amusing reading and anger at the lack of progress made since.

This is the first sentence in his Foreword to that document: “The single biggest problem for London is the gridlock of our transport system. At the start of the 21st Century, traffic speeds in central London have fallen to less than ten miles an hour with knock-on effects on the speed and reliability of the bus system. Congestion is growing in outer London town centres. Rail services are in unprecedented crisis. The Underground is more over-crowded and unreliable…..”. He said the transport crisis threatened London’s economic prosperity and suggested London needed a “world class transport system”.

Have we got one now? Not exactly and traffic speeds have actually fallen below what they were in 2001. In central London traffic speeds were reported as being less than 9 mph in central London last year by various sources, and as low as 7.3 mph in one quarter in 2017.

The Underground is more crowded than ever with some stations having to be closed at peak times. Surface rail has improved in some regards on some lines, but certainly not if you are a Southern Rail user.

What did Mr Livingstone plan to do to improve the dire state of affairs he commented upon? Apart from the fine words about improving the capacity of the public transport network as in Sadiq Khans recently published Transport Strategy, he proposed to implement a Congestion Charge “to deter unnecessary vehicle journeys in central London”. That obviously did not work. You can find a lot more analysis of why on this web page: http://www.freedomfordrivers.org/congestion.htm .

Excuses from the Mayor and Transport for London as to why it did not work are numerous but are false. It failed simply because London has such high unsatisfied demand for road space and lots of people willing to pay for it, that they simply soaked up the space. The Congestion Charge (a.k.a. Tax) has more than doubled since Ken Livingstone introduced it, and still it did not work. In addition, more road space has been taken up by buses which are massively subsidised and their numbers expanded under Livingstone (they are still high) and by the modern fashion for PHVs (Uber etc). The growth in the population of London, and of businesses in central London, have created major headwinds in addition while cycle lanes have taken up valuable road space but are often relatively little used.

Mr Livingstone, and his successors Boris Johnson and Sadiq Khan have persisted with irrational and unproductive gestures without getting to the nub of the issue and producing policies that might actually work. Boris Johnson seemed to try to solve the problem by encouraging cycling, and Sadiq Khan’s added walking as a solution to both our transport and health problems. He also suggests road pricing or more congestion charging might help when we know from experience that those policies will not improve matters.

I suggest readers tell Sadiq Khan that a totally fresh approach is needed. Not more of the same regurgitated policies that emanate from Transport for London.

Roger Lawson

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Sadiq Khan Decides PCNs Will Increase

Back in September 2017 Transport for London (TfL) announced a consultation on proposed increases in the level of PCN charges. They proposed to increase the standard charge for not paying the Congestion Charge (a.k.a. Tax), and for red route and other infringements, to £160 from £130. That’s a 23% increase which is much higher than inflation of course.

As we said at the time, this looks like part of the Mayor’s strategy to make life more and more difficult for the average motorist as a very high proportion of infringements that result in PCNs are accidental or from ignorance by drivers rather than deliberate avoidance. In addition it will also help the Mayor’s budget which he continues to have problems with due to unwise past decisions.

Sadiq Khan has now decided to proceed with the proposals as they stand. The public consultation results show a lot of opposition (the full report on that is available here: https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/general/penalty-charge-notices/ ). There were 7,411 responses to the consultation (including one from the ABD of course). Many of them came from central London boroughs but there were a large number from outside London also.

TfL analysed the main issues raised by respondents and there were over 4,000 which criticised the proposals on various grounds. Only 265 responses were supportive of the increase, with another 325 making alternative suggestions. In reality that demonstrates there was widespread opposition to the change from the general public and even among “stakeholders” a number of concerns were expressed. The lack of data to support the proposal was also criticised.

But Sadiq Khan and TfL have rejected all these comments and are going ahead regardless. That’s how democracy works in London. The Mayor decides he needs some more money, does a token “consultation” and then does what he proposed in the first place. It’s called a dictatorship.

The Congestion Charge

One of the interesting comments in the report in response to criticism of Mr Khan’s motives for increasing the charge was that £1.9 billion in net revenue was generated by the Congestion Charge over the last fourteen years. This was fed into “on going investment in the Capital’s transport infrastructure” it says, but then goes on to say that £1.5 billion of that was spent on improvements to the bus network. In other words, the vast majority of the income surplus was used to subsidise the losses on London buses where usage continues to fall.

So motorists (and goods vehicle owners) are continuing to pay through the nose to subsidise public transport and other programmes from which they get no benefit. Instead of funding for road network improvements, all we get is funding to make it worse – such as the millions spent on cycle superhighways.

Roger Lawson

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Mayor Pushes Ahead With ULEZ

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has announced today that he is definitely going ahead with the introduction of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in central London from 2019, i.e. he is bringing forward the original planned date based on the results of his last consultation.

This will cover any vehicle that enters the existing Congestion Charge zone and will operate seven days per week, 24 hours a day, unlike the Congestion Charge (a.k.a. tax). The additional charge will be £12.50 for cars, vans and motorbikes that do not meet defined emission standards, or £100 per day for lorries, buses and coaches.

Diesel cars that do not meet the Euro 6 standard, which means most of them that will be more than 4 years old in 2019, will need to pay the additional charge – making it cost as much as £22.50 to drive into central London. Petrol cars will only have to meet the Euro 4 standard so even older such vehicles may be OK. Go to this web page to check your vehicle: https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/driving/ultra-low-emission-zone/check-your-vehicle?intcmp=32646

The ULEZ will replace the “T-Charge” on older vehicles which came into force in October this year.

The Mayor is also introducing a “particulate matter standard” to the ULEZ standards bearing in mind recent concerns about that kind of air pollution. It is not clear how that will work as it suggests that vehicles that comply with the Euro standards might fail on other grounds.

Bearing in mind that the ULEZ may be extended across a wider area (for example to the North/South circular), it seems likely that not many London residents will be buying diesel cars in future as emissions standards tighten, and more will buy electric vehicles.

The consultation responses (over 18,000 in total) showed 72% of the general public support the principle of a ULEZ, with only 21% opposed. But for those who drive within central London, 65% were opposed. Some 52% of drivers were also opposed to bringing forward the ULEZ to 2019. The ABD was one of only three stakeholder groups who opposed the ULEZ.

The Mayor also makes a pitch for a national vehicle scrappage scheme, a new Clean Air Act, changes to VED, and more money for City Hall in his press release.

Will the announced measures reduce air pollution? Probably although these are improving anyway as older vehicles are scrapped and replaced. But the main culprits as regards pollution were and are HGVs, LGVs, buses and taxis. Imposing such draconian standards on cars and even motorbikes 24×7 is not a cost-effective solution. The fact that the Mayor and Transport for London (TfL) have failed to provide any cost/benefit justification, nor even any of the budget costs of the scheme in response to an FOI Act request just tells you one thing. This scheme is as much about making money for the Major’s coffers as improving air pollution. This was also reflected in the consultation comments “written in” where 5% of respondents suggested it was a tax/revenue raising scheme for TfL.

But there were very few comments in support of extending the ULEZ boundary. Only 1% supported extending it to the North/South Circular. Let us hope that kills off that idea which would impose a major financial burden on many more London residents.

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Proposal to Increase PCN Cost

Transport for London (TfL) have announced proposals to increase the cost of a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) from £130 to £160. That is the charge payable when you don’t pay the Congestion Charge (a.k.a. tax) or infringe the Red Route rules.

They claim the number of people incurring PCNs has been increasing, particularly those who are repeat offenders (64% of Congestion Charge infringers and 38% of Red Route infringers). They claim increasing the PCN cost would reduce the number by providing a stronger deterrent but provide no evidence for that claim.

It is possible that repeat offenders have increased simply because TfL do not manage to collect the PCN charge – they provide no data on this in the consultation which as usual with recent TfL consultations is very poor. It does not provide the information required to make an informed response.

One reason for the increase in Congestion Charge PCNs may simply be that people now have more difficulty in paying it since the number of payment methods have been reduced over the years since introduction, or that TfL are not promoting the need to pay as actively.

But it is wrong that the increase of 23% in the PCN cost is much higher than could be justified by general price inflation since the last increase. This just looks like part of the Mayor’s strategy to make life more and more difficult for the average motorist as a very high proportion of infringements that result in PCNs are accidental or from ignorance by drivers rather than deliberate avoidance.

That explains why TfL collected income of £168 million from Congestion Charge infringements and £35 million in Red Route infringements last year. That’s surely enough!

The ABD has already responded to this consultation but anyone who drives in London should also do so as soon as possible. Go here for more information and a simple on-line response form you can use: https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/general/penalty-charge-notices/?cid=penalty-charge . DO MAKE SURE YOU OBJECT!

Roger Lawson

London Assembly Recommends Solutions to Traffic Congestion

The London Assembly Transport Committee have been conducting an inquiry into Reducing Traffic Congestion in London. Their report that invited comments and suggestions contained data showing that congestion in London has significantly worsened in the last couple of years. Indeed many of the comments submitted provided further evidence of that and few people who have driven in London of late would disagree. Average daytime traffic speeds on weekdays in London are now down to 7.8 mph. See previous blog post for more information.

You can see the ABD’s submission to the inquiry here: http://www.freedomfordrivers.org/GLA-Transport-Committee-Traffic-Congestion-2016-09-13.pdf

So what bright ideas did the Committee come up with to tackle congestion (i.e. what are their recommendations)?

Firstly the Chair, Caroline Pidgeon, suggested that the Congestion Charge was initially successful but it was “no longer fit for purpose”. It has been undermined by various changes such as the increase in private hire vehicles, and more goods vehicle deliveries driven by internet buyers having goods delivered to their offices. These were common themes noted by others.

Comment: The “initial success” of the Congestion Charge (a.k.a. tax) is a myth as we first reported in 2006 and repeatedly thereafter – see http://www.freedomfordrivers.org/Congestion.htm . Instead of reducing congestion it has just been used as a money raising measure by TfL to support the Mayor’s budgets – and the new Mayor is even shorter of money than the last having made some rash promises to get elected. Despite more than doubling the tax from that originally imposed, traffic continued to grow for the reasons given above and because of the general increase in the population and business activities. One can therefore agree it was not “fit for purpose” and it was also a very poorly designed system where one had to pay the charge just by driving a few yards into the central zone and spending one minute there, while another driver who drove around all day within the zone paid the same, i.e. the charge was not related to road usage, or focussed on the most congested areas.

Flat rate pricing is seen not to be effective so the Committee is recommending a more general “road pricing” scheme. How this would be technically done is not explained (Comment: politicians don’t have to worry about the practicality of what they are proposing). They are also talking about covering a wider area than the existing central area with such a scheme, i.e. a congestion tax across the whole of London! And they want it integrated with the new ULEZ enforcement system.

They also wish TfL to encourage local boroughs to implement a Workplace Parking Levy along the same lines as in Nottingham.

As regards the problem of delivery vehicles, they suggest TfL should encourage more consolidation, and also pilot a ban on personal deliveries to staff. (Comment: this may be sensible if they are a real problem but surely more evidence on what the impact of such deliveries is should first be ascertained). Click and collect at tube and other stations should also be encouraged.

There is also a suggestion that Private Hire Vehicles (PHVs or “mini-cabs”) should pay the Congestion Charge. At present all licensed taxis and PHVs are exempt from the Congestion Charge. Why? Well it’s probably because it was a sop to the vociferous taxi lobby to prevent them objecting when the scheme was introduced, but it seems odd that they should have such an exemption. After all they contribute to congestion very substantially. Private cars are a now a small proportion of traffic in central London (roughly 18%). It’s all the HGVs, LGVs, taxis, PHVs, and buses that are the major contributors to congestion, and air pollution of course.

The Committee accepted that one of the contributions to traffic congestion was road space reduction in recent years. Lots of respondents complained about the impact of the Cycle Superhighways which has been one major cause.

In summary, this is a very disappointing report, with proposals to spend money on replacing the Congestion Charge with a new, larger system when it won’t reduce congestion. The unsatisfied demand is so huge that any road space will quickly fill up however the charge is structured.

You can read the Committees Report and all the responses here: https://www.london.gov.uk/about-us/london-assembly/london-assembly-publications/london-stalling-reducing-traffic-congestion

Note that one Committee member, David Kurten from UKIP, made a contrary statement to the Committee’s recommendations. He supported reform of the congestion charge system but not a wider road pricing scheme. He also opposed Work Place Parking Levies, and expressed concerns about the Cycle Superhighways. Comment: Very sensible reservations indeed.

If you want to read some of the comments submitted by various organisations to get some idea of how difficult it is to drive in London nowadays, try the one submitted by the “Driver-Guides Association” on page 84 – they mentioned the closure of Shorter Street for example which the ABD has also attacked; and the one submitted by the Professional Tourist Guides on page 159 – they quote an example of it taking 2 hours to drive from the National History Museum to St. Pauls (approx. 5 miles) – I can believe it and I doubt that is exceptional at all now the Embankment has been reduced to one lane.

Postscript: The GLA later published an Addendum to their report that indicated opposition from another Member. This is what it said: “Views of Steve O’Connell AM GLA Conservatives: would like to clarify his views on Recommendation 1 of report, London stalling: Reducing traffic congestion in London. Whilst Steve O’Connell is willing, in the interests of cross-party working, to see proposals brought forward for how road-pricing in London might work, he remains strongly opposed to the principle of road-pricing and would be almost certain to oppose any specific proposals.”. Why was this not published in the initial version of the report? We do not know

Roger Lawson

Mayor Calls for Congestion Charge on VW

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has asked that Volkswagen pay £2.5 million for “missed” congestion charge payments after the emissions rigging disclosures. He suggested that was the figure owners avoided paying by claiming a discount for a low emission vehicle when they were nothing of the sort. Vehicles affected are Audi A1 and A3, Skoda Fabia and Octavia, Seat Ibiza and Leon, and VE Golf and Polo cars.

Comment: the Mayor said “if you don’t ask you don’t get”, but of course there is no threat of legal action or formal claim. It looks like political posturing as the chance of making this stick legally is surely very low. It is the owners of the vehicles who claimed the discount on the basis of the information available to them and in good faith. Is the Mayor going to go back to them and ask for more money? I don’t think so. It is also arguable that the real life emissions of the vehicles concerned were indeed low and hence would have qualified anyway.

Roger Lawson