I covered the announcement of the Governments Covid-19 Transport Strategy in a previous blog post. Here are some further comments:
On the 9th May Grant Shapps, Transport Secretary, said that only 10% of former public transport capacity will be available in some locations if social distancing is to be maintained. It seems likely that will be so for many months even if people are permitted to go back to work. This will clearly cause major problems in London where almost all commuters use public transport such as trains, the underground and buses.
After the Prime Minister spoke on the 10th May, Mr Shapps issued this tweet: “Speaking this evening the PM was clear – if you’re going back to work in a job that cannot be done from home, please avoid public transport if possible. Go by car, or even better, cycle or walk. To help, we’ve announced more than £2bn in the biggest ever boost to cycling and walking”.
An example of how problematic London transport has become is a report in the Times that says Transport for London (TfL) has asked the Government for £2 billion. To quote: “TfL is down to its last £1bn, which is being burnt at a rate of £21m a day — leaving it less than two months from emptying its coffers and illustrating the intense pressure on local authority finances”. The article suggests the Government will attach some strings to any funding.
Mr Shapps was clearly right to point out the public transport capacity problem, but his apparent remedy to get everyone walking and cycling makes little sense. It is a typical view of politicians who can afford to live in central London. But for the vast majority of London commuters who travel many miles to get to work, it’s simply impractical even if they are keen cyclists.
Mr Shapps also justified his proposals by saying the epidemic is a great health opportunity to encourage active travel with the objective to double cycling by 2025. He also proposes to implement at least one “zero emission” city, and argues that one of the few positives will be improved air quality. He actually said there are “more than 20,000 extra deaths a year attributed to NO2 emissions”.
This figure is nonsense. It repeats the past allegation of 40,000 deaths from air pollution in the UK which has been shown to be simply wrong and a corruption of statistical evidence. In reality, there may be a few months shortening of life expectancy from all air pollution sources, a lot of which cannot be removed such as natural sources. But the figure is essentially uncertain and it is clear there are no deaths directly attributable to pollution. To specifically indicate NO2, which mainly comes from transport, as being the problem is also wrong when the Government advisory body COMEAP could not even agree that NO2 contributed to the negative impact on health of air pollution from particulates.
Mr Shapps clearly knows little about air pollution and its impact on health but is using his ignorance to put a positive spin on his actions in response to the transport crisis.
Just to show how there is no direct correlation between traffic levels and air pollution, this is what the London Air Quality Network (LAQN) recently reported: “Levels of the pollutant nitrogen dioxide (NO2) has reduced significantly during lockdown, research from King’s College London has found. Concentrations of NO2 have lowered as much as 55% due to less road traffic. However, levels of PM10 and PM2.5 were higher after lockdown than at any other time in 2020, due to easterly winds and pollutants from northern Europe”. The reduction in NO2 is perhaps not surprising when measurements by the LAQN are often taken at the roadside so will be heavily influenced by adjacent traffic. But as particulates (PM10 and PM2.5) are of much greater health concern you can see that Mr Shapps’ spin on the air pollution issue is somewhat misleading. Other UK cities have also shown no direct correlation between traffic reduction from the epidemic and air pollution – at least to date.
The air pollution problem is much more complex than can be solved by encouraging walking and cycling alone.
To conclude the ABD issued the following national press release:
Shapps Announces £2 Billion War On Drivers.
Every city in the UK to be made a traffic hell like London.
Grant Shapps today announced £2 billion to supposedly enhance walking and cycling (See Reference 1 below), but when he expounded the detail it was clear that this amounted to yet more gridlock and bullying for motorists of the type we have unfortunately got used to in London (Reference 2).
Pavements will be widened, cycle lanes introduced, roads will be closed – yet Shapps had the effrontery to suggest that a 5% increase in cycling would benefit motorists by reducing congestion. Not if there are 50% less roads, it won’t, Grant. Do the maths.
And while drivers are bullied with ridiculous speed limits, an expansion of electric scooters is simultaneously mooted – devices capable of breaking urban speed limits but which have no effective braking, crash protection or licensing requirements. This shows that road safety is a sham – just an excuse to make driving unpleasant and stressful and so discourage it.
The result is that getting about in any motor vehicle – car, delivery van, tradesman, taxi – in our cities is going to become a total 24/7 nightmare in every city in the UK.
The excuse for this was Coronavirus, but it’s clear that these disgraceful measures will be permanent. Talk about taking advantage of a crisis to reduce people’s freedom. The day after VE Day and we’ve already forgotten why we fought World War 2.
Notes for Editors
(1) £2 billion package to create new era for walking and cycling: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/2-billion-package-to-create-new-era-for-cycling-and-walking
(2) How London got rid of private cars – and grew more congested than ever:
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