Transport Costs in London – A Begging Letter from the Mayor

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has recently published a document entitled “Transport expenditure in London” (from the GLA Economics Current Issues Note 54). It claims to be an analysis of how much money is spent on transport in London in comparison with other parts of the country. But in reality it repeatedly simply argues that London needs more. Unfortunately, the facts presented, which is useful information in many ways, actually tend to show that London is already very well funded as regards rail transport, but that the road system has been neglected of late. Here are some of the key points from the document:

It says “Comparing regions based on how much transport expenditure they receive on its own or on a per head basis does not properly account for the need or demand for transport” (page 2). It suggests that rather than using a “per head” basis, it should be on a “per user” basis and proceeds to say “On this basis, the amount spent on railways per passenger journey and the amount spent on roads per 1 million vehicle miles in London were one of the lowest among the GB regions.”  

Now there are of course many more “commuters” who travel into London by train and other public transport on a daily basis than you get in the other major UK cities, let alone in the more rural areas. In addition many of these journeys in London involved multiple stages, i.e. separate trips, including changes of mode, which they are probably counting as separate journeys because they are otherwise difficult to measure. So they are selecting a measure that favours their argument.

In addition, they say that “In particular, London has seen the largest decline in road expenditure per 1 million vehicle miles since 2007-08”. Well one can quite believe that when London has had minimal expenditure on roads while cities like Birmingham have greatly improved their road networks in recent years.

They do point out that the number of passengers using public transport in London at peak hours far exceeds that of other major cities but their table of numbers of trips by mode shows that almost as many get made by car as by bus/tram and they are more than double those by rail. Mr Khan wants to change that of course, and the Mayor, and his cycling mad predecessor, have been increasing the number of cycle trips but they are still a small fraction of those by other modes (see page 9).

The report gives some figures on public sector expenditure by region, and London receives 29% of all of it, plus another 11% is spent in the South-East. The North-West is the next biggest at 11%. This just shows how much more subsidies, both capital and current expenditure, is spent in London and the South-East than the rest of the country – but the Mayor would like even more! See page 12.

In terms of expenditure per head, London is about twice as high as any other region and amounts to about £981 in 2015-2016 per head. To look at this a different way, the expenditure per passenger journey on the railways in London was approximately £6.94 in 2015-16. Bearing in mind that most rail trips within London probably cost less than £7 you can see how massive these subsidies are (i.e. more than 100%).

The rest of Great Britain gets even bigger rail subsidies per trip at £10.30, but one has to bear in mind that many such trips would be much longer and more expensive.

In terms of road expenditure per region per user, London is relatively high but Scotland is even higher (see page 21). But London’s has been declining and has “one of the lowest spends per vehicle mile in Great Britain”.

Page 25 of the report also gives a useful breakdown of “Sources of Funding for Transport for London”. Some 47% comes from fares, 25% from central Government grants (i.e. out of taxes), 17% from borrowing, and 11% from “other income” (that would include the Congestion and LEZ charges). So Londoners get a subsidy equivalent to 53% for public transport. But this report argues Londoners pay proportionally more for its own infrastructure investments in comparison to other regions.

The recently published Mayor’s Transport Strategy argued that public transport users subsidise car drivers. On the data contained in this report, that is clearly nonsense. Public transport users are massively subsidised and the Mayor is asking for even more. See here for more information on that and how you can object:

The full report on Transport Expenditure in London is present here:

Roger Lawson