Train Strikes – What’s It All About?

The national rail strikes this week have been incredibly inconvenient for those who rely on trains to get to work or for essential trips such as visits to hospitals. In London the strike has also extended to the London Underground. Commuters have been badly affected although the ability to work from home (WFH) has softened the blow and reduced the impact.

Why are RMT union members striking? It’s partly that they want a pay increase to offset the impact of inflation. But it’s also about whether rail management have the power to decide on jobs and working practices. For example, they wish to block any forced redundancies such as the closing of ticket offices. In London they are even intervening over the outsourcing of the contract for underground cleaning by TfL.

It should be a business decision as to whether ticket offices should be closed. There are now generally alternative ways to buy tickets although a few people might be inconvenienced. But if it saves money then management need to decide on a commercial basis whether to close offices.

National Rail Chief executive Andrew Haines said: “We cannot expect to take more than our fair share of public funds, and so we must modernise our industry to put it on a sound financial footing for the future. Failure to modernise will only lead to industry decline and more job losses in the long run.”

In reality the national railways have lost money for the last 100 years and have been massively subsidised by the Government (i.e. by you and me from our taxes). It’s exactly the same in London. With reduced passengers on all services due to the Covid epidemic and more WFH all rail services need to cut their costs to get revenue and costs more into balance.

The rail system is an enormously labour-intensive operation to maintain the track and signalling. Railways are also enormously expensive to build – just look at the cost of HS2 or Crossrail (about £100 billion and £19 billion respectively) – both projects are late and over budget.

The big problem is that railways use old technology and are operated using archaic working practices. The rail unions are trying to protect their pay, their jobs and working practices which is simply unjustifiable. They need to accept that passengers have alternatives and if they are unwilling to use the railways as much as they used to do then management has to retrench.

The unions need to face up to reality or they will go the way of the dinosaurs (like the coal miners did when faced with the Government being unwilling to subsidise perpetual losses).

But the core of the problem is a confrontational approach from both sides. There should be a consensus about how to run the railways profitably for the benefit of both the owners and the workers.

Roger Lawson

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School Streets in Bromley

Bromley Council published a report on their review of “School Streets” prior to consideration by the Portfolio Holder and Environment PDS Committee on the 21st June. It makes for interesting reading.

School Streets are ones where roads are closed, particularly during school opening and closing times. They typically ban non-residents in the interests of reducing air pollution and improving road safety for children plus to encourage them to walk or cycle to school but such schemes are often controversial. One result is often simply to move traffic and parking to nearby roads while obstructing delivery drivers and other legitimate visitors.

Bromley introduced a number of School Streets in 2020 including at Hayes Primary School. Only two of these temporary schemes are still running due to lack of commitment to cover the cost of marshalling which is labour intensive.

There is a cost of £2,000 for setting up a new School Street for signs, barriers and traffic orders. Funding came from TfL but it is uncertain whether that would be available in future. Other boroughs have used ANPR systems to enforce School Streets but this is not Bromley Council’s policy due to the high cost (£25,000 per camera plus annual cost of £5,000).

The Council’s report mentions several incidents of altercations between drivers and the marshals while a survey of parents at Hayes Primary School elicited a mix of responses. Some supported it but there were also a large number of objections. Some 40% objected to the scheme being made permanent. If you read the detailed comments in the council’s report it is clear that School Streets are a divisive proposition.

The report’s main final recommendation to the Portfolio Holder was that “School Streets are not actively rolled out across the borough, due primarily to resource implications but also the negative impact on some parents and on some nearby residents”. However schools currently operating them may continue given certain conditions. A final decision is now awaited.

This seems an eminently wise recommendation. Oh but why don’t other London councils follow that approach instead of spouting the dogma about the benefits of School Streets when there are clearly many downsides?

There is some evidence that School Streets might reduce air pollution levels outside schools but as with LTNs they might simply have moved the traffic and pollution to other roads or to other times of day. The negative impacts do not justify School Streets in most locations.

The full council report can be obtained from here: https://cds.bromley.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?MId=7410&x=1 (see agenda item 12f).

Roger Lawson

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ULEZ Expansion and Changes to Euston Road

This note is a wrap up of recent news.

Euston Road

Firstly Transport for London (TfL) are changing the Euston Road scheme. This scheme which introduced a cycle lane has caused terrible traffic congestion on what is one of the key arterial roads in London particularly for east/west traffic. To quote from TfL:

“We have decided to make significant alterations to the scheme, including reinstating the bus lane and the removal of the temporary eastbound cycle lane. We will, however, retain some elements of the scheme which is set out below.

As London gets busier our monitoring has identified significant increases to bus journey times along Euston Road, resulting in delays to bus passengers. We are also seeing increased traffic congestion on Euston Road. Furthermore, High Speed 2 (HS2) construction works are planned in and around Euston Station and HS2 will need to use road space on the Euston Road as part of their construction plans.

Reinstating the bus lane on Euston Road should help to reduce the delays currently experienced. As road space will be required for the HS2 works, it will not be possible to maintain a cycle lane here. Cyclists can continue to use the bus lane and there is an alternative route just south of Euston Road.

We will shortly remove the cycle lane and reinstate the eastbound bus and traffic lane along Euston Road. We are currently planning a construction programme for the works which we expect to take place later in the summer, although we will write to local businesses and residents to confirm the extent of works and dates when confirmed”.

Comment: All they seem concerned about is bus journey times when this scheme degraded the road network for all vehicle users and was yet another damaging and ill-conceived road scheme in London.

ULEZ Expansion

Opposition to the expansion of the ULEZ scheme to the whole of London is growing. A new petition has been raised against it on change.org. Please sign it here: https://chng.it/wCC249NWK8

Sadiq Khan has claimed that “the greatest number of deaths attributable to toxic air are in outer London boroughs”. This is a false claim with no evidence to support it. There may be more deaths from respiratory disease in outer London but that is because there are more elderly people living in outer London boroughs. There is no connection to air pollution as boroughs such as Bromley have cleaner air than central London boroughs.

The Mayor claims that the ULEZ expansion will also “tackle the climate emergency” and “reduce congestion”. How exactly? He does not explain.

In reality the Mayor is using false statistics to justify imposing more taxes on vehicle owners and targeting the small minority of people who drive older vehicles. They can typically ill-afford to upgrade their vehicles.

The Mayor even concedes that “the dominant proportion of road transport emissions are now non-exhaust emissions including tyre and brake wear along with road wear and resuspension of particles as vehicles travel on roads….”. You can therefore anticipate that after older vehicles there will be new taxes soon to deter all vehicle usage. You have been warned!

See https://haveyoursay.tfl.gov.uk/cleanair for what the Mayor and TfL are saying. Please do respond to the consultation.         

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Bus Routes Being Cut – And Not Before Time

The BBC have reported that many bus routes in London are being cut or reduced in frequency – see link below for details. Up to one fifth of routes will be affected and there is a public consultation you can respond to – see link below.

Such cuts are long overdue. Not only do so many buses slow other traffic but TfL is running up massive deficits on bus services which have actually got worse during the pandemic as ridership fell. I said this in a previous blog post:  In the Operating Segment of “Buses, streets and other operations” there is a deficit of £754 million for the last quarter and that probably includes the income from the Congestion and ULEZ charges.

In essence TfL continues to run totally uneconomic bus services for which the customers are unwilling to pay. Cuts to bus services should have been made long ago. The population of London supports these services from which a minority benefit out of the taxes they pay which is unfair and unreasonable. Why should cyclists, tube and rail users and motorists subsidise bus services?

BBC Report: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-61660409

TfL Consultation: https://haveyoursay.tfl.gov.uk/busreview

Roger Lawson

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Petition to Halt Spread of 20 MPH Speed Limits  

A petition on Change.org has been created by James Burdass which reads: “Stop every road in London having a 20mph Speed limit”.

More details say “Let’s face it, every driver knows that London is grinding to a halt under the Mayor’s transport policies. So why is it that we need more expensive to implement new anti-car 20mph speed limits?

The Mayor has said that all Red Routes within the Congestion charging zone will have 20mph limits. Yes, the main roads not the high street or residential roads. Just outside the zone, Park Lane goes from 40mph to 20mph. Progress?

For more than half a century 30mph has been the default urban speed limit in the UK. 20mph limits are expensive to implement, wasting scarce road related funding that could be better spent elsewhere, create more pollution on our streets, lead to more congestion and do not deliver the benefits in terms of casualty reduction that proponents expected.https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/20-mph-speed-limits-on-roads

20mph leads to slower speeds for everyone and that includes bus passengers and ambulances looking to get people to hospital. Rather than winning hearts and minds it is the backs and spines that are affected.

It is time that this was rolled back and London’s main roads restored to 30mph.

Please sign it here: https://chng.it/C6pwgJ6FfM

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Sadiq Khan Commits to Expanding ULEZ to All London

The Mayor of London is pushing ahead with expanding the ULEZ to the whole of London despite strong opposition from outer London boroughs. He has launched a public consultation (see link below) on his proposal. The plan is to expand it in August 2023 and anyone with a non-compliant vehicle will need to pay £12.50 per day – that means older vehicle users, particularly diesel cars and vans.

He claims this is necessary to clean up London’s air but it’s really about raising tax to fill the yawning hole in TfL’s budget.

The consultation document claims it will lead to a 9% reduction in NOx emissions in outer London and a 6% reduction in CO2 emissions but will anyone notice the difference? These changes will not have any significant impact on the health of Londoners and the Mayor’s comments about cutting “harmful emissions to help save the planet” are just nonsense. It won’t save the planet from anything but it will cost many Londoners an enormous amount in paying the charge or having to replace their vehicles.

He even suggests that his proposals will help to reduce traffic congestion. Again a nonsensical claim unless he manages to discourage vehicle use altogether which is clearly the plan. An outright attack on freedom of movement and the choice of how you travel.

His claims about the impact of the ULEZ in central London are grossly exaggerated. Emissions have reduced mainly because the vehicle fleet has been renewed as older vehicles are scrapped and central Government tax incentives have encouraged more fuel-efficient vehicles (including EVs).

The Mayor says that only one in five drivers in London will be impacted but the financial impact on them will be devastating.

The Mayor has proposed a vehicle scrappage scheme to support low income and disabled people and he mentions a reimbursement scheme for NHS patients but no details are provided. A vehicle scrappage scheme is likely to be very limited in scope and likewise any reimbursement scheme for patients (there is one already but it’s administratively complex and limited so don’t expect it to help much).

There will be a large cost involved in installing all the extra cameras required to enforce the scheme, which TfL can barely afford, and once installed it will give the Mayor the ability to charge all vehicles to drive in London. Don’t expect the Mayor to give up on a new revenue source!

Make sure you respond to the public consultation below and object!  

ULEZ Expansion Consultation: https://haveyoursay.tfl.gov.uk/cleanair?tool=survey_tool

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The Good News and the Bad

The good news is that Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham is proposing to drop plans for a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) scheme that would charge motorists similar to the Birmingham and London schemes. But it depends on agreement with the Government. The charging scheme had already been “paused” until 2026 but now looks like it will be scrapped. Signs already put up for the scheme will need to be removed. See https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-61439444 for more details.

The bad news is that the Daily Telegraph have reported that the Government is to finance Mini-Holland cycling schemes to encourage people to ditch their cars in Britain’s major cities under government plans.

Nineteen local authorities, including Manchester, Hull and Nottinghamshire, are to get government funds for mini-Hollands with segregated bike lanes, traffic calming and residential streets blocked to cars.

It is suggested officials have steered away from describing any of the projects as Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs), which have provoked intense local opposition over road closures and claims of increased congestion on boundary highways in some areas. But they did acknowledge some had LTN features. See Telegraph article here: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2022/05/14/wheels-motion-turn-british-cities-cycle-friendly-mini-hollands/

Comment: I cannot understand why people think that Holland is a good example to follow. There may be more cycling in some Dutch cities such as Amsterdam but nationally there are more casualties to cyclists than in the UK and traffic congestion is also worse. There is no evidence that introducing such schemes increases cycling (or “active travel”) in the UK. Cycling remains a fair-weather transport mode only followed by young males in flat locations. If people calling for mini-Hollands actually bothered to visit Holland they would see a very different picture. The only good aspect is that Holland has encouraged more off-road cycle paths that separate vehicle traffic from cyclists.  

Instead of spending £200 million on encouraging cycling the Government should spend it on improving the road network to improve road safety and cut traffic congestion.

Another good article in the Telegraph was entitled “Why Boris and the elite are determined to wean us off the car”. It said “Exasperated motorists are feeling pushed out of the picture with rising fuel costs, congestion charges, low traffic zones and speeding fines, and motorists, especially those who travel into cities, feel they are being hit from every direction. Dead ahead there are closed off roads in low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs); to the left there are automated cameras monitoring their every move; to the right low emission zones and 20mph limits. And all around are parking charges and fuel costs that put a hefty dent in your wallet”; “There has now developed in Government an anti-car attitude as opposed to car management, a hostility to the motor vehicle rather than how we can manage this, says former transport minister John Spellar. He puts this down to a London-centric approach to transport that focuses on the problems cars cause in congested cities and ignores different conditions in other areas. As Spellar points out, working Britons outside the capital – particularly manual and shift workers – often rely on their vehicles to get to work, unlike city commuters who can travel by train”. See https://www.telegraph.co.uk/cars/features/boris-elite-determined-wean-us-car/ for the full article.

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Queen’s Speech

The Queen’s Speech in Parliament yesterday (10/05/2022) outlined the Government’s legislative programme. One item of interest for road users was the inclusion of a Public Order Bill to give the police new powers to tackle disruptive demonstrations.

It is likely to mean that “locking on” or gluing oneself to objects will become a specific criminal offence, as will Interfering with key national infrastructure. Police may gain greater powers to stop and search, in a bid to prevent disruptive protests. “Protest Asbos,” or “serious disruption prevention orders” will also become part of the Public Order Bill – imposing conditions on repeat offenders. Penalties for obstructive behaviour will increase also to deter those who repeatedly offend and who frequently take little notice of the current fines imposed.

These proposals brought the predictable complaints from groups such as Extinction Rebellion.

Comment: This legislation is long overdue. Peaceful protest to bring issues to the attention of the public should be protected. But behaviour that disrupts people’s lives, incurs large costs in transport delays and policing needs should not be accepted.

Let us hope that this legislation gets through Parliament quickly and is not diluted by obstructive behaviour in the House of Lords.

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Local Elections Postmortem

Now that most of the local council election results are in, it’s worth reviewing the results. Particularly in London where many local issues such as the impact of LTNs should have had an impact.

Overall the Conservatives lost hundreds of council seats in the country in what was seen as a complaint about the cost of living, the dislike of Boris Johnson as a result of “partygate” and other national issues. This was a particular problem in London. But there were very mixed results when the detail is examined.

In London Labour won Westminster, Wandsworth and Barnet from the Conservatives but they lost Harrow to the Conservatives. Also Labour lost the elected Mayor role in Tower Hamlets to Lutfur Rahman who had previously been banned from standing after an Election Court found him guilty of illegal and corrupt practices in 2015. LTNs were a significant issue in Tower Hamlets.

Croydon has a new Conservative directly elected Mayor in Jason Perry who won by a narrow majority after a recount. Let us hope that he introduces some reforms after the previous regime bankrupted the council. Postscript: The overall result in terms of other councillors was that Labour lost overall control of the Council with the Conservatives having the largest number of councillors.

In Bromley there was a minor upset in Chislehurst ward where newly formed party Chislehurst Matters won all three seats after running a very effective campaign using social media and focussing on a few local issues. But Conservatives still retained overall control of the council with 36 seats won. Former council leader Colin Smith was re-elected so presumably he will remain in post which is surely to be welcomed as Bromley has generally been a well-managed borough both financially and otherwise in recent years.

In Lewisham the Labour Party retained control – it will remain a one-party state. Mayor Damien Egan actually increased his vote slightly to 58% of all votes cast, although that still equates to only 20.3% of the electorate on a low turnout of 35%. In Lee Green, the ward where there was a lot of controversy over the LTN, Labour retained all three seats but with reduced voting percentages. Comment: there is clearly a lot of political apathy in Lewisham and campaigns by opposing parties seemed to be lacklustre.

In Lambeth, Labour retained control although the LibDems gained a few seats. The Conservatives were nowhere.  

In Islington, Labour won 45 of 48 seats to retain control with the Green Party winning the remaining three.

Labour retained control of Greenwich on a 34% turnout.

In Southwark Labour retained control and the opposition to the LTN in Dulwich seemed to have little impact although in that ward the Conservatives and LibDems effectively split the opposition vote.  

In Enfield where there was substantial controversy over LTNs the Conservatives reduced Labour’s overall majority on the council from 29 to 13.

In summary the dislike of LTNs had some impact on the results in some boroughs but the national image of the Conservatives did not help with Labour talking mainly about issues such as the economy (which local councillors have no influence over) and ignoring local issues.

The outcome also depended to a large extent on the campaigning effectiveness and expenditure in the local wards, with Chislehurst Matters showing how revolutions could overturn results even when there were no clear manifesto or policy commitments. Personal engagement can make a big difference.

Politics is also a long game and turning around the preferences of people to vote for individual candidates or platforms rather than a party as they should do is not easy.  

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Make Sure You Vote Tomorrow

The elections for Councillors in London are being held tomorrow (May the 5th). So please get off your backsides and vote!

Polling stations are open from 7.00 am to 10.00 pm so there is really no excuse (unless you have already submitted a postal vote). There is typically a low turnout in local elections so those elected can be unrepresentative of the views of the electorate unless you cast your votes.

These are elections for your local councillors (and Mayors in some boroughs) so vote for those who will best represent you – not necessarily on traditional party lines. This is not a referendum on your views of central Government but on how well your local borough has been managed.

Please make sure you vote!