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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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.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Why Cost/Benefit Analysis Is So Important

The world is becoming full of irrationality. Political decisions seem to be driven more by emotion than by science of late and all we see on television news are human interest stories rather than facts and analysis.

This creates an atmosphere where those who shout loudest are listened to while quiet scientific analysis is dumped. Thus organisations such as Extinction Rebellion get lots of publicity and media personalities such as Greta Thunberg get massive coverage however wrong they are.

But emotions drive bad decisions.

Let’s consider the issue of road safety for example. Everyone recognises that there are still too many deaths and serious injuries on our roads, many or which might be avoided. But if we decide this is a major national priority on which money should be spent (i.e. from taxes), where do we spend it? A rational person would say “spend it on the most cost-effective proposals because that way we will save the most lives or injuries for a given amount of expenditure”. Bearing in mind there are limited financial resources in any Government, this has to be the best approach.

But there are various ways to reduce casualties, which includes:

  • Redesigning roads to make them safer, including tackling known blackspots.
  • Improved driver training and tougher tests for new drivers.
  • Improving in-car safety by better engineered vehicles.
  • Improving emergency medical treatment after an accident.
  • Cutting ambulance response times.
  • Reducing traffic speeds that might reduce casualty severity.
  • Exhortations to drivers to take more care with publicity campaigns.

You can probably think of some others that might help but the first four of the above have probably had the most impact in the last few years on casualty reduction. Where should the money be spent? What provides the best cost/benefit ratio is the answer.

At the lower level, if we decide that money spent on improving roads is worthwhile, then where do we spend it? The answer is again simple – on those locations where the money will save the most casualties. But many local councils ignore that approach and simply listen to local pressure groups.

Or at the higher level, should the Government spend money on road safety, on improving hospitals, or on improving home safety. For example about 1,700 people die in road accidents each year in the UK, but there are about 6,000 deaths each year from accidents in the home, and 40,000 deaths from cancer. The latter might be susceptible to more expenditure on treatment or research, while many home deaths are due to falls down stairs. Should the Government invest in lifts for all multi-storey homes or only allow bungalows to be built in future? Some 55% of injuries in the home are burns caused by cooking. Should the Government ban cooking?

You can see how this whole field is a minefield of conflicts of interest and instead of rational analysis people tend to spend money where they think it might help or based on traditional ideas. But the answer is to evaluate the cost versus the benefit on a simple uniform financial measure.

The benefit of saving a life, or a serious injury, can be valued and the Department for Transport regularly publishes their figures for those costs – currently it’s about £2 million for a fatality, £250,000 for a serious injury and £25,000 for a minor injury. One can dispute how it is calculated and how optimistic or pessimistic that figure is, but it does provide some basis for working out how much should be spent on saving a death. In addition there are many more minor accidents than KSIs (about 100 times the fatalities), and minor accidents are easier to value because you can simply add up the medical treatment costs, the lost employment time, the emergency services costs and then ask the victims how much they would have paid to avoid the injury. So the overall costs can be roughly estimated with some accuracy.

A similar calculation is made for many other purposes – for example, what is the benefit of treating a patient with a life saving drug versus its cost? Or how by how many years will their life be extended and how do you value an extension of life? Such calculations are a regular element in public policy decisions, although there are few hard guidelines on the subject at present.

The above indicates how the benefits might be calculated. To offset those one has to work out the costs. That includes in the case of revised road schemes, the construction cost of course, but there are often costs (or savings) imposed on road users. For example, in the recently discussed case of the Chislehurst War Memorial Traffic Lights (see https://tinyurl.com/y56v2rty ) where it was proposed to install a Pelican Crossing, the costs are not just the construction cost but the on-going costs imposed on the road users by the extra delays and traffic queues of having a pedestrian phase in the lights. In addition there are the negative costs of more accidents on minor roads due to traffic diversion to avoid the jams, and more air pollution from the stationary queues of traffic. These can all be estimated.

On the subject of air pollution, we currently have a lot of debate about the impact of that and what should be done to improve it. But there is typically little cost/benefit analysis. In reality, even if all air pollution was removed (an impossible task as a lot of it comes from natural sources), it might only extend the average population life by a few days. Meanwhile in London alone hundreds of millions of pounds of costs are being imposed on residents in the name of solving the problem. The cost/benefit on the ABD’s calculations for the London ULEZ scheme is extremely negative – see https://tinyurl.com/y4w6pwuk for the figures. Even Birmingham Council produced a negative figure when trying to justify their CAZ scheme but they still decided to go ahead.

This is public policy making turned on its head. The fact that both such schemes will generate large amounts of revenue for the Mayor of London and Birmingham Council was perhaps a more important part of their considerations! These “taxes” are an irrational imposition on the public and are not even an efficient way of collecting taxes.

Transport for London (TfL) have even given up on publishing any cost/benefit analyses of most new road schemes mainly because the figures when calculated show that they are simply uneconomic. Or they publish figures that are distorted by not including all the costs – for example on their “Safer Speed” plans.

Public life is being corrupted by the approach of relying on emotion to make decisions or by other motives rather than on a proper cost/benefit analysis. We need more politicians who are better educated and understand these issues, and the general public also needs to become better informed on these matters.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Heathrow Airport Plans £15 ULEZ Charge

Heathrow plane

Heathrow airport has announced plans for a charge on some cars and PHVs from 2022. It will apply to those that enter the airport to park or drop off passengers. The charge could be as much as £15 and will be similar to the central London ULEZ charge – in other words focussed on older petrol vehicles and diesels more than 4 years old that are not Euro 6 compliant. Just like the ULEZ, it will apply every day and 24 hours per day. Black cabs will be exempt.

The airport claims this will be used to fund public transport improvements. They also say that road transport is the main source of local air pollution but according to AutoExpress Heathrow Airport had greenhouse gas emissions of around two million tonnes of CO2 in 2017, 1.3 million tonnes of which came from planes taking off and landing.

Comment: It seems exceedingly unlikely that the contribution to air pollution of road vehicles actually going to and from London Airport is significant in comparison with that spewed out by the numerous jet planes taking off and landing. There is also the adjacent traffic with high numbers of HGVs and buses on the M25, M4 and M3 which have nothing to do with the airport and this charge will have no impact on them. Meanwhile the airport is planning to increase flights from the existing runways and wants to open a third runway as soon as possible. If they really wanted to reduce air pollution in this area then they have an easy solution – halt the expansion of the airport.

Penalising those vehicle owners who purchased cars that were perfectly legal at the time is unfair and unreasonable. Diesel cars were encouraged by the Government to reduce CO2 emissions but buyers are now being targeted. Like the central London ULEZ, this scheme just looks like an excuse to raise money from vehicle users by suggesting it will cut air pollution when it will have no significant impact. It’s a pointless gesture which will cost some drivers a great deal.

See here for the press release issued by Heathrow Airport on this topic for more details: https://tinyurl.com/y6qrxtrm

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Shaun Bailey’s Views, Self-Driving Cars and Climate Change

Shaun Bailey, the Conservative candidate to be the next Mayor London, today (24/4/2019) issued the following statement in the Evening Standard giving his views on the Ultra Low Emission Zone, and very reasonable they are too in this writer’s view. Here’s some of what he said:

Shaun Bailey: Expanded Ulez will hurt poorer

Let us agree on one thing: We need to clean up London’s dirty air.

Clean air is a perennial problem for London. My grandparents and parents suffered pea soup fogs. I had headaches in the days of leaded petrol. And today my boy and I struggle with asthma. We need strong action to this killer problem, in central London and beyond.

To his credit, Sadiq Khan has adopted Boris Johnson’s plan for a central Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) and is planning on expanding it to the North and South Circular Roads in 2021. I support the former but have concerns over the latter. Here’s why.

If we’re going to shift people’s behaviour using expensive taxes (and the ULEZ is £62.50 a week) there needs to be an alternative for those without the means to get a new vehicle or pay. The central ULEZ is relatively fair to poorer Londoners because central London is well served by cheap public transport. It is also home to the worst pollution.

Zones 1 and 2 also have the necessary enforcement infrastructure in place; cameras already police the congestion charge, so using the same tools to enforce a central ULEZ is easy and inexpensive.

The same isn’t true in outer London, where the infrastructure will have to be built from scratch (at a cost of £130 million), and where our transport network isn’t as comprehensive. Hitting Londoners — many of whom are already struggling with the cost of living — with a tax on driving when they simply have no alternative is unfair; especially when there are other ways we can clean up our air. A tax alone won’t do.

Top of the list is greening our fleet of almost 10,000 buses and our army of taxis. Hybrid taxis are now a reality and more and more hybrid or low-emission buses are being rolled out too, but we need to move to zero-emission technologies more quickly than by the current target date of 2037.

Instead of setting up the massive surveillance system we’ll need to make the bigger ULEZ work we should be spending that money expanding our green bus fleet and routes.

To be sure, we need strong action. But in his rush to tax, Mr. Khan risks penalising a critical mass of Londoners — especially poorer Londoners — many of whom simply don’t have the money to change their mode of transport on a dime.

<End>

Self-Driving Cars

Another announcement this morning was from UK public company AB Dynamics. Their financial results were very good but it was interesting to read their comments on vehicle technology.

The company specialises in testing systems for major car manufacturers including a range of driving robots, soft vehicle and pedestrian targets and driving simulators. This is just what is needed to test the new Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) and autonomous vehicles (“self-driving” vehicles) that all car manufacturers are now investing a large amount of money in developing.

For example Elon Musk of Tesla recently predicted that his cars will have self -driving capability by mid-2020 – they just need the software upgrading to achieve that he claims. He also promised a fleet of “robo-taxis” by the same date. These claims were greeted by a lot of skepticism and quite rightly. This is what AB Dynamics had to say on the subject in today’s announcement: “There will be many phases to the development of fully autonomous vehicles and we foresee extended periods of time before they can satisfy a significant part of society’s mobility requirements.  There remain significant barriers to adoption including technical, ethical, legal, financial and infrastructure and these challenges will result in the incremental implementation of ADAS systems over many years to come. The ongoing regulatory environment and consumer demand for safety are also driving technological advancements in global mobility requirements and this provides a highly supportive market backdrop to the Group’s activities”.

I can tell you that the ABD is also very wary of self-driving vehicles. None of the vehicles under test offer anything like the reliability needed for fully-automated operation and expecting human operators to take over occasionally (e.g. in emergencies where the vehicle software cannot cope), is totally unrealistic. In other words, even “level 3” operation for self-driving vehicles which requires drivers to take over when needed is fraught with difficulties and offers little advantage to the user because they have to remain awake and alert at all times, something not likely to happen in reality.

Extinction Rebellion and their supporters who have been blocking London’s roads lately seem to want to remove all vehicles from our roads in the cause of reducing CO2 emissions which they claim is the cause of global warming (or “climate change”). I won’t even attempt to cover the latter claims although it’s worth stating that some dispute the connection and that climate change is driven by natural phenomena and cycles. But three things are certain:

  1. Reducing carbon emissions in the UK alone will have negligible impact on world CO2 emissions. China, the USA and other developing countries dominate the sources of such emissions and China’s are still growing strongly due to their heavy reliance on coal-fired power stations for electricity generation. China now produces more CO2 emissions than the USA and EU combined and is still building new coal-fired power stations. The UK now runs much of the time with no use of coal at all and rising energy contribution from wind-power and solar although gas still provides a major source.
  2. Environmental policies in the UK and Europe have actually caused many high energy consumption industries to move to China and other countries, thus enabling the UK to pretend we are whiter than white but not solving the world problem.
  3. A typical example of this approach is the promotion of electric vehicles. A recent article in the Brussels Times suggested that in Germany electric vehicles generate more CO2 over their lifespan than diesel vehicles. The reason is primarily the energy consumed in battery production – for example a Tesla Model 3 battery might require up to 15 tonnes of CO2 to manufacture. Electric car batteries are often manufactured in locations such as China although Tesla produces them in the USA.

In summary the UK and other western countries are being hypocrites and environmental campaigners are demonstrating in the wrong places and for the wrong reasons. The real problem is too many people in this world wanting to move to a high energy consumption lifestyle as we have long enjoyed in the western world. Population control is the only sure way to limit air pollution or CO2 emissions but nobody is willing to face up to that reality. In the meantime we get a lot of virtue signaling from politicians but a failure to tell the public the facts of energy consumption and production. Energy consumption is still growing world-wide and will continue to do so due to demographic changes and the desire for western lifestyles.

Finally just one comment on the Extinction Rebellion demand for a “people’s assembly” or “citizen’s assembly” as it is sometimes called. Is not the parliamentary democracy that we have at present such a system? Or is it simply a case that they want unelected people to decide on future policies? It has been suggested that such an assembly would be chosen at random from the population which hardly seems a very practical idea to me. This demand is a classic example of how muddled the thinking actually is of Extinction Rebellion supporters.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Press Release: ULEZ – A Tax to Fill the Mayor’s TFL Budget Black Hole

The Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) was introduced on the 8th April in the central London zone. Non-compliant car owners will have to pay £12.50 per day in addition to the Congestion Charge (a.k.a. Tax) of £11.50. Penalties for not paying are severe. Vans and HGV vehicle drivers will pay even more and even owners of older motorcycles have to pay even though their emissions are very low.

There are numerous anomalies in this tax which will particularly affect those who drive older cars who are typically the poorer members of the community. Those who drive very expensive modern supercars or luxury vehicles with large engines will not be paying even though the emissions from them are high.

Those who bought diesel vehicles only a few years ago, encouraged by the Government because of their lower CO2   emissions, will now find they are paying this tax or will have to buy a new vehicle.

In reality the ULEZ is a tax designed to bolster the Mayor of London’s income to fix his mismanagement of the Transport for London budget. The tax could take over £1 billion per year out of the London economy and yet it is unlikely to significantly improve the air quality in London.

Mayor Sadiq Khan claims there is a public health crisis from air pollution in London so as to justify these new taxes but that is simply not true. He is even using ill-informed children to promote his claims.

In 2021 this tax will be extended to everywhere within the North/South Circular which will affect millions of car owners in London. The Alliance of British Drivers has been opposing the ULEZ scheme since it was announced. But the public is only now waking up to the ULEZ and other aspects of the Mayor’s Transport Strategy. The ABD has opposed similar schemes in Birmingham, Bath and elsewhere. Some have already been reconsidered due to local opposition, but the Mayor of London is not listening.

ABD Campaign Director Roger Lawson had this to say: “The Mayor is dressing up this new tax as a way to improve our health when it will not. It’s blatant misleading of the public by a Mayor good at rhetoric but bad at actually managing the capital’s finances. The Mayor has manufactured a false emergency so he can say that he is taking urgent and bold action to “save” people from it.

Notes:

To check whether your vehicle is compliant go here: https://tinyurl.com/ya4usuqr

For more information see this page of the ABD’s web site covering our campaign against the Mayor’s Transport Strategy and the ULEZ, the financial facts and spurious environmental claims: https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/environment.htm

ABD Directors Speak to the Express

Two ABD directors, Ian Taylor and Brian MacDowall, recently spoke to the Daily Express about the problems faced by motorists. You can view a video of their interviews including driving around parts of London here: https://tinyurl.com/y2p6qjpa

In summary they say that drivers are finding it evermore “frustrating, inconvenient and expensive” to use the roads with the introduction of new speed cameras and changes to the London Congestion Charge likely to cost road users in the pocket.

Ian Taylor claimed that every measure introduced by the Government “seems to hit the British driver in the pocket” and said that “Whether it be ordinary parking charges, workplace parking charges, it is always hitting you in the pocket, and always trying to exert greater control over every aspect of where you go and what you do.”

They also criticised the Congestion Zone in London which is one of the biggest concerns for drivers and warned against the introduction of the Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) which could see drivers penalised if they do not comply to the restrictions. Brian Macdowall claimed the introduction of the ULEZ would see the lowest earners hit, which would see a “big cost to drivers” by “unnecessary changes”. The ULEZ, which will be introduced as of April 2019 in London, will see some drivers charged £12.50 a day to use, which when paired with the Congestion Charge fee will total £24.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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