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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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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Sadiq Khan Asks for £1 Billion Bail-Out

Sadiq Khan may be asking for as much as £1 billion to bail-out Transport for London (TfL). He did not deny it when interviewed on BBC television. The organisation is haemorrhaging cash as most of its income comes from bus and tube fares and usage of those has severely declined. It may be unable to pay its staff very shortly without some Government support and has already “furloughed” 7,000 staff from today. TfL will be able to access funding from the Government’s Job Retention Scheme for those staff, saving the organisation millions of pounds every week, but that’s only a short-term and temporary solution to the Mayor’s financial problems.

How did the Mayor get TfL into the position where it cannot survive the problems caused by the coronavirus epidemic? In essence because the Mayor is financially inept and has allowed TfL to run up massive deficits so it has minimal reserves to cope with such an event. We have commented on this issue repeatedly – for example here on the TfL budget in January: https://abdlondon.wordpress.com/2020/01/17/tfl-business-plan-and-budget-for-the-next-5-years-more-of-the-same/

Total borrowing was forecast to reach £12.3 billion within 2 years because of delays to Crossrail and other issues, and that was before the impact of the coronavirus. A lot of the problem is caused by the Mayor spending money on programmes such as cycle schemes, Active Travel, Healthy Streets, Vision Zero road safety, the ULEZ and other policies for which there was no cost/benefit justification provided in this Mayor’s Transport Strategy (MTS). Now we are seeing the result of this financial incompetence and inability to manage the budget.

The ABD suggests that before the Government hands the Mayor any cash, they should lay down some conditions on how it will be used and insist on some changes to the MTS. Scrapping the expansion of the ULEZ would be a good starting point.

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Sadiq Khan’s Election Manifesto – Have Your Say

The Labour Party are inviting everyone to have their say on Sadiq Khan’s Manifesto for re-election as London Mayor in 2020. You can read about his achievements to date and submit answers to their questions via this web page: https://tinyurl.com/y29yu999 . It is of course a very biased document like all consultations that Mr Khan presides over, but anyone can respond – you don’t need to be a Labour Party member.

Perhaps the Mayor is short of ideas to ensure he gets re-elected. His last big vote winner was freezing public transport fares but after three years of holding the tide back of inflation in King Canute fashion he has managed to dig a deep hole in Transport for London’s finances which simply cannot continue. Bus services are being reduced as a result while traffic congestion increases. His policies on Congestion Charging and the ULEZ will impose higher costs on many Londoners with minimal public health benefit. He has also clearly failed to tackle rising violent crime and not solved London’s housing problem – indeed his only proposal for the latter is to introduce rent controls which would make matters worse.

But he does admit to increasing the Council Tax Precept (what you pay to the Mayor from your local council taxes) to the maximum allowed. No thanks Mr Mayor. All his other claimed achievements are quite trivial in relation to the problems Londoners perceive as key issues.

All the way through the document, the Mayor emphasises that he has limited powers over many aspects and clearly wants more. But it would be very dangerous to give him more.

Here are some of the questions and how you may care to respond to them (I have only covered those questions that are relevant to transport):

Environment and Climate Change:

Question: How do we take the next steps to clean up London’s air and oversee a massive shift from polluting cars to walking, cycling and electric vehicles at the same time?

Answer: concentrate on fixing the vehicles over which you have control and which are major contributors to air pollution, i.e. diesel buses. You also need to tackle air pollution on the Underground. Otherwise any measures should be justified on cost/benefit grounds and scare-mongering over an imaginary public health crisis as the justification for higher taxes should be stopped. The expansion of the ULEZ to the North/South Circular should be halted and the introduction of more Cycling schemes that create more traffic congestion (and hence air pollution) should be halted.

Transport:

Question: How else can Sadiq make London’s transport system affordable and accessible to all Londoners?

Answer: Stop wasting money on schemes with very poor cost/benefits (such as the proposed Rotherhithe bridge and most of the Cycle Superhighways the finance for which has to come out of public transport fares. He needs to stop spending money and imposing taxes on road users to make the transport system more affordable for everyone. That includes halting the investment in 20 MPH speed limit schemes and cycle schemes that have poor cost/benefits. He should also cease support of road-pricing and workplace parking levies.

Question: What are the future major schemes that Sadiq could focus on delivering?

Answer: The Silvertown Tunnel is one which will be a major benefit for east London. Repairing the Hammersmith Bridge is another for West Londoners. Improving major east-west and north-south road routes such as the Embankment rather than degrading them with 20 MPH speed limits and cycle lanes should be another key objective.

Question: What more can be done to promote walking and cycling?

Answer: Some youth elixirs for the elderly and inform would help and concealing the dangers or cycling is another. That is of course just a witty response to a proposal that is unnecessary and has major disbenefits.

Question: When asking for more powers and devolution from Government on transport issues, where should Sadiq focus his energies?

Answer: Give the Mayor powers to introduce policies to reduce the population of London so as to reduce pressure on the transport, housing and public health systems. Specifically redistribution of business and people out of London and powers to reduce immigration and encourage birth control.

He should also argue for a commitment to devolve more powers to local boroughs so as to avoid TfL dictating local borough policies and more funds financed by central Government to be given to local boroughs solely to be used on improving the road network in London. In addition the Mayor should be given the power to set sensible minimum parking standards for new developments (not maximum ones) in London boroughs.

Those are just a few ideas to help Mr Khan, or indeed his opponents, to get elected.

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The Cost of Khan – 3

The Conservative Group on the Greater London Assembly have produced their latest report on the 3-year record of the Mayor in the “Cost of Khan”. It analyses the performance of Mayor Sadiq Khan in the job. Anyone who thinks he is performing well in the role should read it. For those who think he is performing badly, it provides the evidence.

I’ll focus on a just a few of the issues in this note. Khan’s war on the suburbs with the new “London Plan” is covered where housing density is increased and back gardens are allowed to be built on. It includes proposals to limit car parking provision which shows the Mayor’s lack of awareness and consideration for outer London residents and their needs.

Financial incompetence is highlighted such as over Crossrail, the pay of TfL employees and the ULEZ scheme. The staff in City Hall have gone up from 897 when he became Mayor in 2016 to what will be 1,232 staff in the next financial year. That’s a 37% increase and pay in total has gone up an even more staggering 59%. That’s one reason you are paying more in Council Tax!

Even his record on the environment and air pollution is poor with promises of tree planting not met, and the very high pollution from diesel buses which account for 20% of NO2 emissions is not falling as replacement is slow. The ULEZ scheme will be very expensive to implement and operate and is not likely to have a great impact on air pollution.

In summary, the Mayor is a great expert at blowing his own trumpet by spending large sums on PR and social media. He also spends a lot of time on politics that are outside his remit such as Brexit and the Trump visit. Perhaps he just wants to distract the public from his failings to do his job effectively?

You can read the detail report here:

https://www.glaconservatives.co.uk/cost-of-khan.html

Roger Lawson

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Mayor Lies at the People’s Question Time in Bexley

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA On the 14th March there was a “People’s Question Time” in Bexley where Mayor Sadiq Khan answered questions from the public (photo left).

It commenced by the Mayor suggesting that London’s roads were unsafe because he had no control over road safety in response to a question on junction improvement. He claimed that 95% of the roads are controlled by local boroughs, suggesting it was their fault. But in reality, the Mayor via TfL controls almost all the money spent on roads and road safety. TfL dictates what projects local boroughs can spend on by only funding what they like. In addition they dictate transport strategy directly. As a result, boroughs are forced to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on 20 mph wide area speed limits that have been proven to be totally ineffective, on cycle lanes, speed hump schemes and other pointless measures.

The Mayor was also criticised for spending £400 million on the proposed Rotherhithe cycle/pedestrian bridge, and when it came to policing there was applause from the audience when one person suggested he could solve the crime problem overnight by just diverting money spent on cycle lanes to the police.

When discussing public transport the Mayor said that London is the only city in the world that is not subsidised by Government. That is simply not true. TfL receives £3.2 billion in grants which is 31% of TfL’s income. Most of that money comes from taxes and much comes from central Government – see https://tfl.gov.uk/corporate/about-tfl/how-we-work/how-we-are-funded .

In response to questions on the environment the Mayor said that London air is a killer which is a gross exaggeration. But he got one point right – namely that diesel buses are a major problem. He said the worst areas for air pollution in London are those with the most buses. He said they are not buying any more diesel buses and are retrofitting existing ones.

He got criticism on the ULEZ but apparently expects central Government to bail out folks who cannot afford to buy a new car, which is highly unlikely to happen.

His final major point was to promote another referendum on Brexit. What a pity that Parliament ruled it out the same day which probably pleased the audience and certainly pleased me.

You can see a recording of the meeting here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lmqgw6OjMD4

Mayor’s Tax Precept Rises

There were a number of criticisms of the Mayor’s financial policies at the meeting described above. London residents may have just realised that their local Council Tax is rising significantly this year and one reason is that the Mayor’s tax precept that you pay in your Council Tax, and is passed through to the GLA, is rising by 8.93%. That’s way ahead of inflation and is another example of the Mayor’s financial incompetence.

Roger Lawson

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London Air Pollution Alert, or Perhaps Not

This week (on 26/2/2019) Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, issued an “Air Pollution Alert” in a press release (see https://tinyurl.com/yxud56ya ). He claimed that this is evidence of London’s air quality crisis and why we need the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) which will result in Londoners paying millions of pounds in charges.

But if you read further down the press release it says: “This is due to a combination of poorly dispersed local emissions and sustained import of particulates from Germany and France” and he goes on to say this will get worse on Tuesday. But he omitted to mention that the winds from the south are also bringing dust from the Sahara. This was covered in the Financial Times where Alexander de Meij of MetClim is quoted as saying “it is a rare phenomenon because of the Sahara dust” and added that local and European pollution were contributing factors.

Despite all these hysterics, at Wednesday lunchtime, when air pollution was forecast to be “high”, according to the London Air Quality Network it was in reality only “moderate”. The lack of the normal wind and rain in London does not help perhaps but that will change tomorrow.

Readers are reminded that emissions from vehicles are only one contributor to outside air pollution in London and are in decline as they have been for many years. We reported recently on how air pollution on the Underground is much worse and noted how air pollution inside people’s homes is also relatively poor. That was confirmed in a recent report from the University of Texas in the USA where a study of cooking in a typical American home showed high levels of pollutants was the result. Even simply cooking toast raised particle levels substantially.

Meanwhile, you might be surprised to learn that the UK Government is funding activist lawyers ClientEarth through the Foreign Aid Budget – that’s an organisation that has actually been launching legal actions against the UK Government. See this report from the Taxpayers Alliance for more information: https://tinyurl.com/y5aeqdl8

As a result, local councils have been introducing Clean Air Zones with charges on vehicle users, such as the ULEZ in London. But do they have any impact, such as protecting the health of children or anyone else? The answer is no according to this report from the Taxpayers Alliance: https://www.taxpayersalliance.com/there_s_something_in_the_air

The conclusion must be that these impositions are about extracting money from vehicle users rather than a motive of improving health because they will not do so. The Mayor latest scaremongering is just another example of how he is using scare tactics to get people to support the ULEZ.

The Mayor is promoting London as an “Open” city, but perhaps he should try closing it to air pollution from the EU and North Africa. An imitation of King Canute would be appropriate perhaps?

Roger Lawson

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