Sadiq Khan and TfL Bailed Out

Blackfriars Bridge at Lunch TimeAfter threatening the Government that TfL would have to make deep cuts to public transport in London unless they came up with some money by the close of yesterday, they did agree a bail-out. But with some conditions attached.

The Government has agreed to provide TfL with £1.5 billion in grants and loans to enable TfL to continue operating for at least a few months. With most of TfL’s income coming from bus and underground fares, the collapse in usage as people avoid public transport in the virus pandemic has resulted in massive losses at TfL which are still continuing. In addition the Mayor’s previous decisions to suspend increases in public transport fares, which he made to ensure election, have been enormously damaging to TfL finances and meant they were already budgeting massive deficits even before the epidemic hit.

The suspension of the Congestion Charge and ULEZ has also not helped, plus the fact that you can avoid paying bus fares by entering through the central door as is now required. Even TfL’s advertising revenue has fallen as advertisers’ budgets have fallen and they won’t pay when far few people are using public transport. With social distancing required, even the capacity of buses and the underground will be severely restricted for some time, even if people can be persuaded to use it.

The details of the agreed deal have not yet been disclosed, but the BBC reported that it includes a commitment to raise public transport fares by inflation plus 1%, two seats on the TfL board and a complete review of its finances. TfL has also committed to run a full service when previously they were cutting to 75%.

Mr Khan as usual blamed the Government rather than his own financial incompetence. This is what the BBC reported as being said by someone in the Mayor’s office: “They have forced ordinary Londoners to pay a very heavy price for doing the right thing on Covid-19 by hiking TfL fares, temporarily suspending the Freedom Pass at busy times and loading TfL with debt that Londoners will pay for in the long run”.

Grant Shapps, Transport Secretary, said it was wrong for the rest of the country to be bailing out Londoners but in fact Londoners who never use public transport will be paying a lot of the bill anyway via the Mayoral Council Tax Precept and in other ways.

What should the Mayor have done instead of running up a large deficit, and what should he do now?

Clearly many TfL projects have been very expensive. Building cycle superhighways has not come cheap and schemes such as Crossrail have very marginal cost/benefit ratios. The Mayor’s office and TfL management costs have also grown as the Mayor built an empire at taxpayer’s expense. It seems likely that a number of projects such as to expand the underground network will now have to be cancelled. Subsidies to bus operations which have been running at about £1 billion per annum could never be justified except by the desire of the Mayor to win popularity and elections.

The Mayor and TfL have actually cut their bus income by introducing road schemes that slowed traffic including buses, thus cutting bus ridership. You cannot solve these problems by simply encouraging cycling. The average distance travelled by a London commuter is 13 miles per day with many travelling much longer distances. That makes it impractical for many people to cycle even if they had an inclination to do so. The danger of cycling puts many people off using it for long journeys. Department for Transport (DfT) figures show that there are 1,139 serious injuries and 29 deaths for every million miles cycled, while for car drivers the figures are only 27 and 2 respectively.

The Mayor and central Government should face up to realities and work on the following:

  1. Free up the road network to enable more commuting via cars/taxis and improve bus services. Stop reducing road space.
  2. Provide more parking facilities at low cost.
  3. Encourage more tele-commuting by investing in broadband services and support.
  4. Encourage businesses to relocate out of congested central London into the London suburbs and elsewhere.
  5. Retail facilities and hotels/restaurants should be relocated similarly.
  6. We should move away from the concentration of businesses and facilities in central London to have a wider distribution so we are not reliant on public transport so much.
  7. Bus and underground services should pay for themselves. Handouts for political reasons (such as the Freedom Pass) should be severely restricted to those who really do need travel support, i.e. those who cannot afford to pay.
  8. The ULEZ and Congestion Charge should be scrapped as they don’t really provide a sensible return on the investment and operating costs. They are simply a financial burden on Londoners with very little benefit.

All it needs is strong and wise leadership from the Mayor of London to get Londoners through the current crisis, but will we get it? It seems unlikely from the current Mayor.

All that is likely to happen is that the TfL deficit will continue to grow after this short-term bail-out unless someone really gets to grips with the underlying financial problems.

P.S. Government announcement here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-grants-transport-for-london-funding-package?   They apparently still think the problems can be solved by encouraging cycling.

Roger Lawson

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More on Shapps Announcements and ABD Press Release

I covered the announcement of the Governments Covid-19 Transport Strategy in a previous blog post. Here are some further comments:

On the 9th May Grant Shapps, Transport Secretary, said that only 10% of former public transport capacity will be available in some locations if social distancing is to be maintained. It seems likely that will be so for many months even if people are permitted to go back to work. This will clearly cause major problems in London where almost all commuters use public transport such as trains, the underground and buses.

After the Prime Minister spoke on the 10th May, Mr Shapps issued this tweet: “Speaking this evening the PM was clear – if you’re going back to work in a job that cannot be done from home, please avoid public transport if possible. Go by car, or even better, cycle or walk. To help, we’ve announced more than £2bn in the biggest ever boost to cycling and walking”.

An example of how problematic London transport has become is a report in the Times that says Transport for London (TfL) has asked the Government for £2 billion. To quote: “TfL is down to its last £1bn, which is being burnt at a rate of £21m a day — leaving it less than two months from emptying its coffers and illustrating the intense pressure on local authority finances”. The article suggests the Government will attach some strings to any funding.

Mr Shapps was clearly right to point out the public transport capacity problem, but his apparent remedy to get everyone walking and cycling makes little sense. It is a typical view of politicians who can afford to live in central London. But for the vast majority of London commuters who travel many miles to get to work, it’s simply impractical even if they are keen cyclists.

Mr Shapps also justified his proposals by saying the epidemic is a great health opportunity to encourage active travel with the objective to double cycling by 2025. He also proposes to implement at least one “zero emission” city, and argues that one of the few positives will be improved air quality. He actually said there are “more than 20,000 extra deaths a year attributed to NO2 emissions”.

This figure is nonsense. It repeats the past allegation of 40,000 deaths from air pollution in the UK which has been shown to be simply wrong and a corruption of statistical evidence. In reality, there may be a few months shortening of life expectancy from all air pollution sources, a lot of which cannot be removed such as natural sources. But the figure is essentially uncertain and it is clear there are no deaths directly attributable to pollution. To specifically indicate NO2, which mainly comes from transport, as being the problem is also wrong when the Government advisory body COMEAP could not even agree that NO2 contributed to the negative impact on health of air pollution from particulates.

Mr Shapps clearly knows little about air pollution and its impact on health but is using his ignorance to put a positive spin on his actions in response to the transport crisis.

Just to show how there is no direct correlation between traffic levels and air pollution, this is what the London Air Quality Network (LAQN) recently reported: “Levels of the pollutant nitrogen dioxide (NO2) has reduced significantly during lockdown, research from King’s College London has found. Concentrations of NO2 have lowered as much as 55% due to less road traffic. However, levels of PM10 and PM2.5 were higher after lockdown than at any other time in 2020, due to easterly winds and pollutants from northern Europe”. The reduction in NO2 is perhaps not surprising when measurements by the LAQN are often taken at the roadside so will be heavily influenced by adjacent traffic. But as particulates (PM10 and PM2.5) are of much greater health concern you can see that Mr Shapps’ spin on the air pollution issue is somewhat misleading. Other UK cities have also shown no direct correlation between traffic reduction from the epidemic and air pollution – at least to date.

The air pollution problem is much more complex than can be solved by encouraging walking and cycling alone.

To conclude the ABD has issued the following national press release:

Shapps Announces £2 Billion War On Drivers.

Every city in the UK to be made a traffic hell like London.

Grant Shapps today announced £2 billion to supposedly enhance walking and cycling (See Reference 1 below), but when he expounded the detail it was clear that this amounted to yet more gridlock and bullying for motorists of the type we have unfortunately got used to in London (Reference 2).

Pavements will be widened, cycle lanes introduced, roads will be closed – yet Shapps had the effrontery to suggest that a 5% increase in cycling would benefit motorists by reducing congestion. Not if there are 50% less roads, it won’t, Grant. Do the maths.

And while drivers are bullied with ridiculous speed limits, an expansion of electric scooters is simultaneously mooted – devices capable of breaking urban speed limits but which have no effective braking, crash protection or licensing requirements. This shows that road safety is a sham – just an excuse to make driving unpleasant and stressful and so discourage it.

The result is that getting about in any motor vehicle – car, delivery van, tradesman, taxi – in our cities is going to become a total 24/7 nightmare in every city in the UK.

The excuse for this was Coronavirus, but it’s clear that these disgraceful measures will be permanent. Talk about taking advantage of a crisis to reduce people’s freedom. The day after VE Day and we’ve already forgotten why we fought World War 2.

<Ends>

Notes for Editors

(1) £2 billion package to create new era for walking and cycling: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/2-billion-package-to-create-new-era-for-cycling-and-walking

(2) How London got rid of private cars – and grew more congested than ever:

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/feb/11/how-london-got-rid-of-private-cars-and-grew-more-congested-than-ever

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Paranoia on Speeding Rising and Linking it to the Coronavirus Epidemic

The public’s paranoia about speeding drivers on our roads seems to be increasing. That may be partly driven by the fact that average traffic speeds have been rising as the roads are often empty due to the coronavirus epidemic. But it is also raised by politicians and even the police who are using social media to promote a false message.

For example, this was a recent exchange on twitter that I had with Councillor Nicola Dykes (she is a ward councillor in the London Borough of Bromley and also a Committee Chairman):

Posted by Nicola Dykes: SPEEDING- Police are increasing their operations to tackle this. Please contact them direct via ‪@MPSBromley to share roads where this is an issue. As ward Cllrs we have already highlighted roads we know there is an issue – Farnaby, Hayes Road, Siward etc. Please share!

Posted by me in reply: What is the accident record in those roads that justifies expending police resources on a witch-hunt?

What followed was not an answer to my question, but a long dialogue criticising my comments but never answering the question.

Unfortunately there is too much paranoia about people exceeding the speed limit with the result that a large amount of effort is being expended by the police and others on stopping it when that effort is very unlikely to result in any reduction in road casualties.

As anyone who has looked into this issue would know, the number of road accidents where speeding (i.e. exceeding the speed limit) is a factor is very low. In London the data makes it plain that exceeding the speed limit (factor 306 on the police STATS19 reporting forms) is a very minor factor in KSIs (Killed and Serious Injuries). It’s actually recorded as a contributory factor in only 5.9% of such accidents in the last five years.

The largest contributory factor by far is “Failed to Look Properly” which accounted for 42% of KSIs in London or 35% nationally. But there are several other factors with higher ratings than “Exceeding the Speed Limit” such as “Poor Turn or Manoeuvre”, “Failed to Judge Other Persons Path…”, “Loss of Control” and “Careless, Reckless or in a Hurry”.

Bearing in mind that multiple factors can be recorded, and that many of those involved in accidents will be under the influence of drink or drugs, or otherwise be involved in criminal activity (e.g. in stolen cars), even if the speed limit was rigorously enforced it would be unlikely to make much difference to road casualty statistics.

That is why I say that the whole policy of more speed enforcement is driven by paranoia and is actually diverting resources from more productive and effective road safety policies – such as improving roads, improving driver education and other possible approaches.

As regards the possible problem of excessive speed in Farnaby Road, Hayes Road (the B2212) and Siward Road before the police or Bromley Council spends money on tackling that alleged problem it is best to obtain some data on the actual speed of traffic in those roads and the accident record – the latter should already be available.

I have therefore requested under the Freedom of Information Act the following information:

  1. The details of all road accidents in the following roads: Farnaby Road, Hayes Road and Siward Road for the last three years that are available. That should include not just the totals but the details of accidents in those roads as reported on STATS19 forms (but excluding personal information of course).
  2. Any information held by Bromley Council on the speeds of traffic in those roads.

One of the persons who has been very active on social media promoting the hysteria over speeding is Superintendent Andy Cox of the Metropolitan Police. One of his recent tweets said: “With some very high speeds in London increasing risk of fatal and serious crashes which would add pressure to the NHS, Police, Fire causing potential impact on Covid-19 patients”.

This suggestion that accidents are increasing, putting pressure on the NHS is unsupported by any facts. In reality NHS A&E facilities have fewer patients and plenty of spare capacity at present and the suggestion that treating accident patients might affect treatment of Covid-19 patients is simply wrong. It’s too early to obtain the actual data on vehicle accidents but insurance companies such as Admiral are already refunding part of their car insurance premiums because the number of car accidents has fallen.

We are also seeing the same biased and inaccurate messages from those campaigning for 20 mph speed limits where they suggest that imposing them would relieve pressure on the NHS. It’s simply nonsense.

Readers should make sure they oppose this frenzy of fake news by responding to it with the facts.

Roger Lawson

Postscript: The results of the FOI Act request for data on roads in Bromley can be summarised as follows. It does not provide all the information I requested but there are some conclusions that can be drawn from it.

  1. Recent traffic speed data is only available for Farnaby Road but it shows average traffic speed is well below 30 mph, at about 26 mph. The 85th percentile figure also suggests this road is best signposted at 30 mph. There is some research available that shows that setting the speed limit at the 85th percentile of traffic speed actually results in the minimum of road accidents.
  2. The accident records for the last 5 years from Crashmap shows a few slight accidents in Farnaby Road, one serious accident in Hayes Road and only one slight accident in Siward Road. There were no fatalities. These are not exceptional figures for any roads in Bromley. Slight accidents can be quite trivial but it might be worth looking at the details of the serious accident in Hayes Road to see what the cause of that was.
  3. If local residents are concerned about the speed of traffic in Hayes Road or Siward Road, I suggest that council officers be asked to undertake some speed monitoring on those roads.

Speeding is often a subjective matter, reported by some people but not considered a problem by others. Whether there is a problem, or one worth expending resources upon, is best judged by looking at the accident data. The roads mentioned are obviously not ones that should take priority for road safety measures in Bromley as there are many other roads with a worse accident record. That is where money should be spent – not on roads where there is simply a vociferous group of residents.

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Bus and Underground Usage Collapses While Anti-Car Measures are Promoted

According to figures published by Transport for London (TfL), bus usage is down by 85% from the pre-virus epidemic levels and underground usage is down by 95%. That’s hardly surprising as Mayor Sadiq Khan is now advising people not to use public transport unless they are essential workers travelling to work. That’s a big “U-Turn” from his original comment in March that there was no risk of catching coronavirus on the tube. That was a very ill-advised comment at the time when it was already obvious that it was a highly contagious disease.

It is also causing the deaths of many bus drivers who are exposed to the general public although the Mayor is belatedly taking steps to protect them by limiting access, providing screening and PPE. Meanwhile crowding of people on the underground is still happening as the service has been reduced, partly because underground staff are sick or “self-isolating” (or “under house arrest” as Norman Tebbit aptly called it recently).

Note that income from bus and underground fares provides almost 50% of TfL income so the Mayor has a major financial problem to add to the already high deficit in TfL if the Covid-19 epidemic continues for much longer.

It is very clear that using private cars is a much safer way to travel and that public transport should be avoided but the anti-car and cycling lobbies continue to try and make capital out of the epidemic. The Times reports that roads in built-up areas may be converted into car-free zones to create extra space for joggers and cyclists during lockdown and there is a call for lower speed limits to protect the NHS from having to deal with road casualties. That’s despite the fact that most A&E Units have fewer customers than normal probably because many potential users probably consider them high risk places to visit so are avoiding them.

ABD Spokesman Paul Biggs said: “At a time when vehicle reliant key workers such as mobile carers, NHS staff, delivery drivers etc, are working hard to provide care and keep shops and hospitals supplied, the senseless, shameless anti-driver lobby comes up with ideas to obstruct them in favour of people who aren’t working.

Whether we like it or not, the Government have made it clear that they want people to ‘Stay Home’ as much as possible in order to minimise the spread of virus. Driving a car is the lowest risk form of transport in terms of virus transmission. Jogging and cycling entails heavy breathing outdoors, which is obviously a higher risk. However, it is quite possible for all three to coexist with the common sense and courtesy that is currently being displayed by the vast majority. There is no need for any activity to be banned, including essential car travel, but the roads need to be kept clear for those who actually need to use them rather than being closed for spurious reasons.”

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Police Powers in the Coronavirus Epidemic and Avoiding Public Transport

The Government is encouraging us all to stay at home during the Coronavirus epidemic, and only travel when essential. This is wise advice indeed and certainly travelling on public transport or attending meetings in person should be avoided. It is a pity that London Mayor Sadiq Khan did not promote those rules when the epidemic first became clear instead of advising people that travel on the underground was safe. He has since changed his tune. But this was undoubtedly one reason why London has become a breeding ground for the virus with infections and deaths from the disease much higher there than in most of the country.

To understand why public transport is so dangerous, this is what Matt Ridley, a scientist and writer, had to say in one of his blog posts: “Most infection seems to occur indoors and worryingly quite a lot may have happened within the medical system especially in Italy in the early weeks. According to one study, on tissue paper the virus survives less than three hours, on wood and cloth two days, on glass and banknotes four days and on stainless steel and plastic a week”. In practice therefore just touching a hand hold on a bus or underground train could pass on the infection.

This writer therefore advises everyone to avoid public transport for the duration unless absolutely essential and some precautions are taken. Those people who are especially vulnerable due to age or existing medical conditions should of course not leave their homes at all but “self-isolate” like the Prime Minister whether you have virus symptoms or not.

The Alliance of British Drivers does suggest that using a car is the preferred mode of transport as it will enable you to avoid contact with other people. You just need to take care when refuelling it with petrol or diesel, and subsequently paying (use a contactless card if you can). Wear gloves if possible and wash your hands afterwards. You could also travel by cycle or walk of course but there is then more danger or coming into close contact with other people so more care needs to be taken and those modes are not practical for many trips.

The police seem to have taken a very heavy-handed approach in some cases and are stopping people from driving on what they consider “non-essential” journeys. Fixed penalty notices are being issued when unjustified. This is not what the regulations actually say – see: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2020/350/regulation/6/made

You can leave home and therefore travel for many reasons including taking exercise, and you can certainly travel to work, travel to shop for food or other essentials, to go to a bank or travel to support vulnerable family members. As it’s a lot safer to use a car than catch a bus or train, that should be the preferred mode of transport unless you can walk or cycle.

Some people seem to be using the virus epidemic as a justification for stopping all use of private transport but that is certainly not valid. This is what Mark McArthur-Christie had to say recently in a tweet: “Buses are great – they’re a fine way to get around if (a) there is one and (b) you have time, money and flexibility to spare. But making people use a bus when they have a car is like making them use a launderette when they have a washing machine at home”.

That’s an argument worth remembering.

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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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