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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The Cost of Khan

Gareth Bacon, leader of the GLA Conservatives, has published a very interesting document entitled “The Cost of Khan”. It supplies a half-term report on the regime of Mayor Sadiq Khan and the negative impact he has had in certain areas (crime, planning, parking, housebuilding for example). In essence he suggests one of the key problems is financial mismanagement.

Of particular interest to our readers will be his comments on the activities of TfL (Transport for London) and the budget for that organisation. It covers:

  • Cancellation of new tube trains for the Jubilee and Northern Lines that would have provided much needed extra capacity. That might have saved £600 from the TfL budget but that’s desperately needed after Khan’s expensive promise to freeze public transport fares which cost at least £640 million in foregone revenue. Even that promise was only partly kept.
  • The pay of executive staff in TfL. The number who are paid more than £100,000 p.a. increased by 25% last year so there were 576 such employees. Is the Mayor really cutting the flab out of TfL budgets as he promised to do?
  •  The “T-Charge” which was introduced last October and will cost Londoners £23 million a year despite the Mayor’s own Impact Assessment saying it will have only a negligible impact on pollution (and that has been borne out by real data since).
  •  Nominee passes which you may not be aware of are highlighted. These allow TfL employees to nominate family members and anyone who resides in the same household to obtain free travel. Even flatmates qualify! There are 39,884 people who are nominees and the cost might be equivalent to £32 million in lost revenue per year.

Those and other reports show how the Mayor has been so wasteful of financial resources with the result that he is desperate to raise money from the T-Charge and the ULEZ charge which will impose major unnecessary costs on Londoners. In the personal view of this writer TfL continues to be a massive and very expensive bureaucracy which is unaccountable to the public. It formulates transport policy that will increase the bureaucracy and then does public consultations designed to get the right answers. TfL needs major reform but the Mayor does not seem to have it under control.

The “Cost of Khan” Report is present here: https://www.glaconservatives.co.uk/uploads/1/1/7/8/117899427/final_cost_of_khan__2_.pdf

Roger Lawson

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Cycle Superhighway 11 – Yet Another Legal Battle?

To follow on from my last blog post about current and future legal cases, another pending one is the application for a judicial review by Westminster City Council and a campaign group both opposing the route of Cycle Superhighway 11 (CS11). This runs through Swiss Cottage and Regents Park but there have been many objections from residents north of the Park due to the likely increased traffic congestion and the closure of Regents Park to vehicles. A very active public campaign against the proposals was run by local activists, countered by the usual vociferous cyclists’ groups who even alleged that tacks had been sprinkled in the Park as a protest against the cyclists.

Westminster are also blocking the pedestrianisation of Oxford Street – again because of the many objections from local residents. This is what Mayor Sadiq Khan’s office had to say: “There is an urgent need for safer cycle routes into central London and there is an equally strong case for pedestrianising Oxford Street. The idea that Westminster Council think they can hold the rest of London to ransom is totally unacceptable. Both of these schemes have significant public support. They will make a real difference to making London’s streets safer and cleaner and they shouldn’t be held up by petty political posturing.”

TfL intends to start work almost immediately on CS11 at Swiss Cottage, but legal proceedings may halt work on the stretch that runs through Westminster.

Comment: If Sadiq Khan wonders why he is getting entangled in legal battles it is because he is not listening to a major proportion of the population, or the people most affected by his proposals. Cyclists may support the changes in Regents Park but favouring their views alone and ignoring others is not what democracy is about. There needs to be a compromise that satisfies everyone and which does not change the status quo to the major disadvantage of one group versus another. It is of course the same reason why the Mayor is supporting a legal challenge over Heathrow airport – because the Government is not listening, and why so many people don’t like the Mayor’s Transport Strategy. The latter is a strategy that favours young, active people who live in central London and ignores large swathes of the capital’s population.

When politicians stop listening, the law tends to be invoked. Nobody goes to law if they can avoid it because it is a very expensive and time-consuming process for even the simplest case (and judicial reviews are potentially simple but rarely are in practice). Westminster Council should not be criticised for listening to the electorate and pursuing their concerns.

On the subject of “not listening”, I have requested a meeting with the new Deputy Mayor for Transport Heidi Alexander, but she has refused it. More on that at a later date.

Roger Lawson

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Mayor’s Environment Strategy Misses the Point

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Kham, has published his Environment Strategy. The executive summary talks about the “greening” of London with more trees, green roofs and walls to reduce energy demand, the encouragement of more walking and cycling to improve air quality and many other environmental improvements. But the report fails to mention the key problem. Namely that there are too many people in London.

It highlights that water supply is set to outstrip supply by 2020 and the city’s electricity infrastructure is approaching full capacity. Air pollution is also high but that’s not just from transport, albeit much of the transport emissions are generated by the goods vehicles and public transport vehicles required to serve the growing population. Non-road emissions such as from construction, the river or wood burning constitute half of emissions in London and are a growing issue – that’s what the Mayor says, but he has no solution to that other than to “work with the government and other partners”.

London’s population is growing rapidly and the more people there are, and the more businesses that provide employment and services to those people, the more energy and water are consumed and the more emissions generated. It also results in a sclerotic road transport network where no new capacity has been added for many years. But instead of tackling the root cause of the problem the Mayor is talking about planting more trees and providing more open spaces.

In summary, many of the Mayor’s proposals are worthy and may have minor impacts on the quality of life in London. Encouraging us all to drive zero emission electric vehicles by 2050 may help in some regards, although they will add a further heavy load on the already stretched electricity network, but the report fails to spot the elephant in the room and propose how to deal with it. Namely that there are too many people in too small an area of land. The densification of London, with more and more homes and other buildings to support the growing population, supported by a few more green parks will not tackle the fundamental problem.

More information on the Mayor’s Environment Strategy is present here: https://www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/environment/london-environment-strategy

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More on the ULEZ Expansion

Apart from the lack of any proper cost/benefit justification for the ULEZ expansion as I explained in my previous blog post on the subject (see https://abdlondon.wordpress.com/2018/06/08/mayor-proceeds-with-expansion-of-ulez/), there are other very good reasons why you should see this as a very dangerous step.

As I have already pointed out, once the infrastructure is put in place for this scheme it will enable the Mayor to introduce congestion charging schemes in future over most of London. But there are lots of other possible negative scenarios.

You may say, I am not too concerned because I don’t drive an old diesel vehicle or I can afford to buy a new vehicle that is exempt. But once the Mayor obtains this power to obtain money from vehicle owners in London he can easily vary the rules so that everyone is paying a lot more money in taxes.

For example, he could claim that come 2022, the new ULEZ has proved to be less effective than expected in reducing air pollution. Indeed that is very likely to be the case. Or he might simply say that air pollution is still not good enough. He could justify charging all vehicle users accordingly, even the latest petrol and diesel vehicles. Indeed he could argue that even electric vehicles should be included as they generate particulates from brake and tyre wear. So it could be not just £12.50 per day for older diesel vehicles, but for everyone!

In addition as we saw with the central London Congestion Charge (a.k.a. Tax) this was initially set at £5 per day but is now £11.50, i.e. it’s more than doubled but has not proved any more effective. It now generates significant revenue for TfL above operating costs. So instead of the ULEZ charge being £12.50 it could soon be moved to £15, £20 or even £30 per day and for everyone.

Do you think that the Mayor and TfL have no such intention and have not even looked to the future prospects for this scheme? Think again. The ULEZ is being driven by the desire for more income by the Mayor. Follow the money as always in politics. Discouraging motor vehicles by high charges on everyone who owns one would be perfectly consistent with his objective, as stated in his Transport Strategy, to reduce car usage to a fraction of what it is at present.

A particularly sickening aspect of this matter is the involvement by the Mayor of very young schoolchildren to promote his policies and his politics. He announced the latest extension at Netley Primary School in Euston. This “photo opportunity” was covered by the national media extensively. But what do schoolchildren know about this subject? And why should their teachers be allowing this kind of politicking in their schools? Netley Primary School is close to the Marylebone Road, one of the most polluted roads in London, but even so this hardly justifies the involvement of young children. Mayor Sadiq Khan is a serial offender in this regard as he has done this previously. Children should not be used by politicians to promote their financial policies.

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Speed Limits in London to be Reduced, and More Enforcement

Mayor Sadiq Khan has stated that speed limits on London’s roads are to be reduced. In addition, there will be more “enforcement” of the limits.

The London Assembly Transport Committee published a report a few months ago calling on Transport for London (TfL) to review the speed limits on all its roads in the capital. They believed this would encourage more walking and cycling.

In response to a letter from Conservative London Assembly member Steve O’Connell which raised concerns that the majority of drivers ignore 20mph speed limits, the Mayor said: “Lowering speeds is fundamental to reducing road danger and Transport for London (TfL) is actively developing a strategy to increase the number of communities which will benefit from 20mph speed limits and speed reductions”. The Mayor said he will be publishing an action plan this summer which will provide details on City Hall and TfL’s approach and timescales for implementing lower speeds, as well as what measures will be rolled out in order to enforce them and ensure compliance. The plans apparently included imposing 20-mph speed limits on TfL controlled roads, which are the main roads in London.

However GLA Conservatives have raised concerns over the speed limit proposals, saying: “The Transport for London road network or red routes are London’s arterial roads. Although they make up just five per cent of London’s roads they contain approximately 30 per cent of London’s traffic. Their purpose – and the reason that they are run by TfL rather than London’s boroughs – is to keep London and Londoners moving.”

Comment: they are right to raise concerns. This looks like a plan to make London’s road transport network even more sclerotic than it is at present. The London Assembly seem to believe that simply reducing speed limits will cut road casualties when that is unlikely to be the case. The reason why speed limits, particularly 20-mph ones, are often ignored is because drivers see no purpose in them on some roads at some times of day. Drivers object to having their intelligence about what is and is not a safe speed at which to drive undermined by limits that apply regardless of traffic, pedestrians presence, cyclists presence, weather conditions and all the other factors that affect at which speed it is safe to drive. Imposing the lowest common denominator of a speed limit set by token gestures rather than the speed limit sent in a scientific manner using the 85th percentile of free flowing traffic speed will not increase compliance.

Other News

Former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone has resigned from the Labour party. That’s probably before he was thrown out for his comments on Hitler. Readers should be reminded that the declared car-hating Livingstone was the catalyst for the destruction of London’s road network and it has gone downhill ever since. From the London Congestion Charge (a.k.a. tax) imposed to reduce congestion which it has not done, to the creation of Transport for London as a body that promoted the wonders of public transport, cycling and walking to the prejudice of all private transport. In reality TfL is an enormous expensive bureaucracy that is now running a massive budget deficit. Mayor Sadiq Khan has simply taken up similar policies in his new Transport Strategy, for example with the ULEZ proposals which will impose enormous costs on Londoners for very little benefit. Like Livingstone he is a “populist” Mayor who panders to the electorate with promises to freeze London’s public transport fares, promises to fix air pollution, promises fix our health problems by encouraging walking and cycling, and other very expensive policies that won’t work with a growing and ageing population in London. But as in the case of Livingstone there are signs that the public are becoming disenchanted with his regime as they see the results of his policies.

Incidentally I happened to walk past Sadiq Khan on the streets of London recently. I had not realised how short he is which is not obvious from his TV appearances. He would make a good shoe-in for Rick Moranis in a remake of “Honey, I shrunk the kids” if you recall that popular film of the 1980s. To quote Mr Khan: “Although I’m 5ft 6 I’ve grown in relation to the ideas I’ve got and what I’m going to do”.

The City of London Corporation that covers the square mile in the business district is drawing up their Transport Strategy. They are holding several meetings on the 29th June and the 6th July to discuss the proposed “vision, aim and outcomes”. Anyone with an interest in the road network in the City may care to attend – it’s free. See https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/city-of-london-transport-strategy-briefing-tickets-46108726442

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Heidi Alexander Appointed Deputy Mayor for Transport

Mayor Sadiq Khan has appointed Heidi Alexander, M.P., as Deputy Mayor for Transport in London. She takes over from Val Shawcross who has overseen major damage to London’s road network as a result of the Mayor’s policies.

Heidi Alexander will be resigning from her position in Parliament where she has acted as a representative for Lewisham East. A bye-election will therefore have to be held for a replacement. She has not announced the reason for her departure from Parliament except she was known to be opposed to Brexit and not apparently a Corbyn supporter.

Does Heidi Alexander have special expertise or knowledge of the transport sector which would quality her for this position? A quick search of the internet reveals only that she expressed concern about access to Lewisham Station. Otherwise she is quoted as being “excited about her appointment” and that “I know just how important it is we ensure everyone has access to a high-quality and affordable public transport network with safe cycling routes across the capital”. So it looks like more of the same policies we have endured in London in recent years. Not that Heidi looks like she does much cycling from her physical appearance. If she does not she might want to practice a bit because no doubt there will be calls for photo shoots of her cycling with the Mayor very soon.

Roger Lawson

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