MTS Campaign Meeting Report

On Saturday the 28th April we held a meeting for supporters of the ABD’s campaign against the Mayor’s Transport Strategy (MTS) in central London. I chose to drive to the venue as I was carrying quite a weight of equipment and papers, but it turned into a typical nightmare trip on London’s roads. It ended up taking 2 hours to drive the 15 miles there. We were doing well until we hit a closure of Upper Thames Street and The Embankment with all traffic being diverted across Southwark Bridge south of the river – the exact opposite direction to where we wanted to go. So I turned round and aimed to take a route around to the North via City Road and the Angel, Islington. But that route was also closed by apparent crane work. There was no advance notice or signs of these closures on two of the key routes in London. Even on a Saturday they are now very busy. What a dreadful way to run a transport network of a major world city!

I did eventually manage to get there in time to give my presentation, but one or two people didn’t make it perhaps because of the traffic congestion. Here’s a brief summary of what was said at the meeting. The Powerpoint presentation slides are available here: http://www.freedomfordrivers.org/MTS%20Meeting%20Presentation%202018-04-28.pdf

After a brief explanation of the objectives and background of the Alliance of British Drivers I explained the key themes of the Mayor’s Strategy. These are to turn streets into places for “active travel and social interaction”, and to reduce “car dependency”. The latter is of course an emotive phrase when nobody talks about “cycle dependency” or “public transport dependency”. Why should it be used to describe people’s rational choice of transport mode? Such phrases are just part of the “spin” put on these policies and the graphic I showed taken from the Mayor’s document demonstrates how unrealistic are the depictions of London in the future. Such graphics often ignore the needs for local transport deliveries of goods and services in London. In addition the Mayor has ignored the needs of the growing proportion of elderly and disabled people in London, many of whom have responded to our campaign as they are dependent on private cars or PHVs.

I talked about the Mayor’s problems which the Strategy aims to counter. This includes a rapidly growing population in London which is putting a stress on public transport capacity and road congestion, and also leading to higher air pollution (and not just from traffic). These of course result from past policies adopted by London Mayors. But one of his key problems is shortage of money with a massive budget deficit looming. This results from public transport fare freezes which he promised to get elected, increasing subsidies and general financial mismanagement.

I explained that the answer from the Mayor are policies that will extract more money from Londoners (and those who visit London from outside) and restrict private travel in the name of making the population healthier. There are a number of ways the Mayor can implement these policies, via the encouragement of the London boroughs if not directly.

What alternatives could the Mayor have proposed? Obviously one of the key factors has been the growing population of London and he could have reduced that by encouraging redistribution of business activity and population as was done in the 1960s via New Towns, or by not promoting it as “more open” to immigration as he has done recently. The implementation of cycle superhighways in the manner done, road space removal (road closures, removal of gyratories, etc) and other detail policies emanating from TfL have also contributed. I suggested that it was possible to improve the road network for cyclists and for road safety without such damaging impacts on the road network.

There was a brief explanation of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) and the misleading claims made about deaths from air pollution in London (as one member of the audience put it: “40,000 deaths a year in London”, which shows how spurious statistics are being propagated). There is no major health crisis, Londoners are living longer and air quality is improving! We then had a session from Howard Cox of FairFuelUK. He explained what his organisation has been doing to obtain 1.7 million supporters for a campaign that is well worth supporting. He has been good at obtaining both media and political support as a result. He questioned why the Government have not looked at alternative ways of improving air quality and looked at other sources of emissions rather than just focussing on vehicle owners. FairFuelUK are working with others to produce better scientific evidence on the real health impact of emissions and the cost of ignoring alternative solutions to reducing emissions.

I explained what the campaign against the MTS had been doing and what we will do going forward. The audience was encouraged to support us in several ways to enable us to generate more supporters and more funds to fight the campaign.

Lastly there was a session on how to defeat the MTS. This can be done in local boroughs (for example I explained earlier how the ABD had defeated a proposed congestion charge in Greenwich promoted by Ken Livingstone over ten years ago), or perhaps by ensuring Sadiq Khan does not get re-elected as Mayor in two years’ time. As he is doing a good job of becoming unpopular for other reasons, just like Ken Livingstone at the end of his reign, perhaps the slogan should be similar to the popular one in that era – namely “anyone but Khan” for Mayor at the next election.

It was noted that the ABD can give assistance with local campaigns in several ways – you just need to ask for it.

We covered how supporters can help the campaign. Recruiting more supporters is one key aspect over the next few months, ensure that people find out what is being done in their local boroughs (a member of the audience suggested that people ask if there are any proposals for a local congestion charge) and provide funds to fight the campaign. It is important to ensure that more London residents, and those in surrounding areas, know what is being proposed because there is general ignorance on the subject – few people have actually read the Mayor’s Transport Strategy document but it will dictate many aspects of travel and parking in London over the next few years.

There was plenty of time for questions from the audience. Two particular subjects that arose was the status on Cycle Superhighway 11 (CS11) and Bank Junction closure in the City. On the former, which was proposed to result in the closure of Regent’s Park to vehicles, it seems that it may be being held up by objections from affected borough councils after all. CS11 is a good example of how local opposition can delay or thwart unreasonable proposals. On Bank this is an experimental scheme but will be subject to a review in a few months’ time and I explained what representations the ABD had made on this topic.

The key as always if you want to have an impact on politicians is not just to moan in private or on social media, but to directly contact the political decision makers – the Mayor London, London Assembly Members, your local M.P, local Councillors, et al. It is also necessarily to respond to relevant public consultations and get the vote out when necessary.

In my experience politicians do listen, particularly when it seems they might be at risk of losing an election by pursuing unpopular policies! Please bear that in mind. That was perhaps one of the most important points communicated at this event.

Roger Lawson

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Judicial Reviews invoked by Motoring Groups

T-Charge. The Sun has reported that FairFuelUK are planning to challenge the Mayor of London’s introduction of the “Toxicity Tax” (“T-Charge”) via a judicial review in the High Court. This is a tax of £10 on certain older vehicles that do not meet newer emission standards that is being imposed from October if they are driven into the central congestion charge area.

The challenge will be on the basis that it is unfair discrimination against a small minority of road users when other vehicles (e.g. TfL buses) and other sources (e.g. construction machinery and diggers) generate more pollution. In other words, it is an unreasonable attack on car users.

FairFuelUK may be looking for financial support to enable them to fight this case (judicial reviews are expensive), so anyone interested in this matter should keep an eye open for further news.

Croydon 20MPH. Another judicial review where the case has already been filed in court is that over the public consultation in Croydon on implementation of the blanket 20 MPH speed limit. The ABD supported an active local campaign against the proposals (see http://www.freedomfordrivers.org/Croydon20.htm ) and we have also complained to the Council about the defective consultation process. The process was changed from one area to another, apparently with the objective of obtaining the desired result, the information provided to residents was biased, the results ignored, and objections not considered properly. There are established legal principles about how public consultation should be run to ensure they are fair and unbiased, which is no doubt the basis of the challenge.

Both cases are in essence about illogical and unreasonable attacks on car and van drivers in the name of environmental improvement when there will allegedly be negligible advantage but significant costs imposed on drivers.

Roger Lawson

 

Media Coverage of Air Pollution and Electric Vehicles

With the Mayor of London’s plans for the ULEZ, his new Transport Strategy and the Government about to publish their air quality plans for cities, the issue of air pollution has been getting a lot of media coverage of late.

The Evening Standard ran an article by David Williams on the 28th June headlined “Don’t punish the car drivers for air pollution when other causes are worse”. The article said that making motorists pay punitive charges will fail to achieve major cuts in London’s pollution. This is the argument put forward by campaign group FairFuelUK who say it is more about raising cash as the revenue raised is not ringfenced to tackling emissions or congestion. One cannot but agree with them.

They also suggest that politicians are aiming for the wrong target by focussing on private cars which contribute only 11% of NOX emissions when 16% comes from gas central heating, 14% from diesel machinery and a lot from LGVs. Other sources are air traffic, air conditioning and HGVs. They also complain that local authorities have failed to cope with particulates that are left on roads by tyres and brakes.

FairFuelUK are asking people to write to Michael Gove and Theresa Coffey on the prospective additional taxation of diesel cars while promoting alternative solutions. For example, instead of an expensive diesel vehicle scrappage scheme they suggest retrofit devices can solve the problem on most vehicles. In addition, they push for the adoption of E10 fuel (an ethanol/petrol blend) which most cars can run on perfectly well and is widely available in other countries. They also promote the use of additives to reduce diesel emissions as is mandated in Texas. This can cut NOX emissions by 67%, and reduce other pollutants also. It does seem there are a number of other possible solutions that would be both cheaper and more effective than taxing motorists or forcing them to replace their vehicles – as Sadiq Khan is doing in London.

You can read about the FairFuelUK campaign here: http://act.fairfueluk.com/lobby/Defra-Plan .

I would encourage you to support it.

In the Financial Times on the 8th July there was a good article by Neil Collins on the unforeseen consequences of the push for electric cars. It was headlined “Electric cars are a pain in the wallet for those who don’t drive them”, and it spelled out the wonders of such vehicles.

But the downside is the loss of fuel tax to the Government (£28 billion per year and rising), while electric vehicles are subsidised by the Government. In addition, there are major problems in developing the electricity supply grid to cope with future demand. He says “The energy transfer at a busy filling station is about equivalent to the output of a mid-sized power station” and goes on to explain the energy inefficiency of electric cars due to high distribution and storage costs. He notes that: “Electric cars are gathering speed thanks to politics rather than economics”.

This writer has so far avoided the lure of electric or hybrid vehicles simply because the economics did not stack up. A Prius might work well for a high mileage Uber driver and all electric vehicles have historically had problems of range, recharging time and cost. But they are getting better. I am having a test drive of Tesla Model S next week so I may be able to report my impressions in due course.

Roger Lawson