London Assembly Recommends Solutions to Traffic Congestion

The London Assembly Transport Committee have been conducting an inquiry into Reducing Traffic Congestion in London. Their report that invited comments and suggestions contained data showing that congestion in London has significantly worsened in the last couple of years. Indeed many of the comments submitted provided further evidence of that and few people who have driven in London of late would disagree. Average daytime traffic speeds on weekdays in London are now down to 7.8 mph. See previous blog post for more information.

So what bright ideas did the Committee come up with to tackle congestion (i.e. what are their recommendations)?

Firstly the Chair, Caroline Pidgeon, suggested that the Congestion Charge was initially successful but it was “no longer fit for purpose”. It has been undermined by various changes such as the increase in private hire vehicles, and more goods vehicle deliveries driven by internet buyers having goods delivered to their offices. These were common themes noted by others.

Comment: The “initial success” of the Congestion Charge (a.k.a. tax) is a myth as we first reported in 2006 and repeatedly thereafter – see . Instead of reducing congestion it has just been used as a money raising measure by TfL to support the Mayor’s budgets – and the new Mayor is even shorter of money than the last having made some rash promises to get elected. Despite more than doubling the tax from that originally imposed, traffic continued to grow for the reasons given above and because of the general increase in the population and business activities. One can therefore agree it was not “fit for purpose” and it was also a very poorly designed system where one had to pay the charge just by driving a few yards into the central zone and spending one minute there, while another driver who drove around all day within the zone paid the same, i.e. the charge was not related to road usage, or focussed on the most congested areas.

Flat rate pricing is seen not to be effective so the Committee is recommending a more general “road pricing” scheme. How this would be technically done is not explained (Comment: politicians don’t have to worry about the practicality of what they are proposing). They are also talking about covering a wider area than the existing central area with such a scheme, i.e. a congestion tax across the whole of London! And they want it integrated with the new ULEZ enforcement system.

They also wish TfL to encourage local boroughs to implement a Workplace Parking Levy along the same lines as in Nottingham.

As regards the problem of delivery vehicles, they suggest TfL should encourage more consolidation, and also pilot a ban on personal deliveries to staff. (Comment: this may be sensible if they are a real problem but surely more evidence on what the impact of such deliveries is should first be ascertained). Click and collect at tube and other stations should also be encouraged.

There is also a suggestion that Private Hire Vehicles (PHVs or “mini-cabs”) should pay the Congestion Charge. At present all licensed taxis and PHVs are exempt from the Congestion Charge. Why? Well it’s probably because it was a sop to the vociferous taxi lobby to prevent them objecting when the scheme was introduced, but it seems odd that they should have such an exemption. After all they contribute to congestion very substantially. Private cars are a now a small proportion of traffic in central London (roughly 18%). It’s all the HGVs, LGVs, taxis, PHVs, and buses that are the major contributors to congestion, and air pollution of course.

The Committee accepted that one of the contributions to traffic congestion was road space reduction in recent years. Lots of respondents complained about the impact of the Cycle Superhighways which has been one major cause.

In summary, this is a very disappointing report, with proposals to spend money on replacing the Congestion Charge with a new, larger system when it won’t reduce congestion. The unsatisfied demand is so huge that any road space will quickly fill up however the charge is structured.

You can read the Committees Report and all the responses here:

Note that one Committee member, David Kurten from UKIP, made a contrary statement to the Committee’s recommendations. He supported reform of the congestion charge system but not a wider road pricing scheme. He also opposed Work Place Parking Levies, and expressed concerns about the Cycle Superhighways. Comment: Very sensible reservations indeed.

If you want to read some of the comments submitted by various organisations to get some idea of how difficult it is to drive in London nowadays, try the one submitted by the “Driver-Guides Association” on page 84 – they mentioned the closure of Shorter Street for example which we have also attacked; and the one submitted by the Professional Tourist Guides on page 159 – they quote an example of it taking 2 hours to drive from the National History Museum to St. Pauls (approx. 5 miles) – I can believe it and I doubt that is exceptional at all now the Embankment has been reduced to one lane.

Postscript: The GLA later published an Addendum to their report that indicated opposition from another Member. This is what it said: “Views of Steve O’Connell AM GLA Conservatives: would like to clarify his views on Recommendation 1 of report, London stalling: Reducing traffic congestion in London. Whilst Steve O’Connell is willing, in the interests of cross-party working, to see proposals brought forward for how road-pricing in London might work, he remains strongly opposed to the principle of road-pricing and would be almost certain to oppose any specific proposals.”. Why was this not published in the initial version of the report? We do not know

Roger Lawson

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