More Taxes on Car Drivers, and Londoners in General

I covered the TfL bail-out deal that Sadiq Khan agreed with the Government in a previous blog post. As usual the Mayor blames the Government. So he says today: “The Government is, in effect, making ordinary Londoners pay the cost for doing the right thing on Covid-19”. He also said: “This deal is a sticking plaster. The old model for funding public transport in London simply does not work in this new reality – fares income will not cover the cost of running services while so few people can safely use public transport. Over the next few months we will have to negotiate a new funding model with Government – which will involve either permanent funding from Government or giving London more control over key taxes so we can pay for it ourselves – or a combination of both”. Yes it looks like the Mayor wants to take more from you in taxes!

See the link to the full announcement below.

To help raise more revenue, the Congestion Charge and ULEZ taxes are being immediately reinstated and the Congestion Charge is to go up a whopping 30% from the 22nd June and the times will be extended to between 07:00 and 22:00, seven days a week. It is suggested this might be a temporary change, but don’t bet on it!

In addition there will be road closures and Heidi Alexander has said “One of the world’s largest car free zones will be created in central London as part of our response to Covid-19”.

This is what Black-cab driver and general secretary of the London Taxi Drivers’ Association (LTDA) Steve McNamara said to the BBC: “ It’s an absolute disgrace –  no one had been consulted about plans to change the use of some roads. Usually you have to consult with the public and businesses – they are using a health emergency to get around the laws to consult people before you do these things. London will grind to a halt even with reduced people. It’s a land grab to exclude Londoners from their roads and to widen pavements for more cycling”.

The ABD certainly agrees with those comments and we have pointed out that the Covid-19 epidemic is being used to introduce an agenda that penalises private travel and reduces your freedom. See the link to the ABD’s press release below.

But it’s not just vehicle users who are going to be penalised. The BBC has said this about the Freedom Pass: “Under the new conditions, children will no longer have free travel across London and restrictions on travel passes for people with a disability or over the age of 60 will also be imposed during peak hours”, although no formal announcement has yet to be made. The Freedom Pass might have been overdue for reform but the Mayor will no doubt blame this on the Government also rather than his own financial mismanagement.

Roger Lawson

Mayor’s Announcement: https://www.london.gov.uk/press-releases/mayoral/statement-from-the-mayor-of-london-regarding-tfl

ABD Press Release: https://www.abd.org.uk/press-release-shapps-announces-2-billion-war-on-drivers/

You can see more details of the proposals from TfL to change London here:  https://tfl.gov.uk/travel-information/improvements-and-projects/streetspace-for-london

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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.

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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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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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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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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