Transport Crisis in London

Both Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, and Andy Byford, London Transport Commissioner, have warned that unless they get more money from the Government then there are going to be savage cuts in public transport and on major infrastructure projects. The latter might include the required repairs to the Rotherhithe Tunnel, the A40 Westway and A12 Gallows Corner flyover leading to their closure.

Some 100 bus routes face the axe and frequencies may be cut on 200 other routes. Other proposals are no more electric buses, no more step-free stations, no more “Healthy Streets” cycling and walking schemes and no more 20mph zones or safer junctions.

Now some readers might welcome some of those things and clearly the Mayor is trying to scare the Government into providing more funding within weeks. But some of those suggestions like closure of the Rotherhithe Tunnel and the Westway would be disastrous for the functioning of the road network in both east and west London.

How did TfL get themselves into such a mess? It all stems from the policies adopted by Ken Livingstone which was for massive subsidies to buses and commitments for large expenditure on Crossrail and other underground projects. The bus network has certainly been greatly expanded but at a cost that was never justified and Crossrail has been a financial disaster. Over budget, over schedule, and never justified on a cost/benefit basis. The Mayor was relying on income from it to cover TfL’s future budgets which it never has.

Boris Johnson never tackled the problems created by Livingstone when he was Mayor while Sadiq Khan has actually made matters worse by spending enormous amounts of money on cycle lanes, LTNs, and other schemes that have damaged the road network. He has also encouraged the growth in the population of London while the infrastructure never kept up with it despite massive central Government funding.

A report in the Express shows that £515 more per person was spent on transport schemes in London than on the North of England. A new report from the IPPR North think tank has published an independent analysis of transport spending over the past decade. Between 2009/10-2019/20, the North received just £349 per person in transport spending. In comparison, the UK as a whole received £430 per person, while London received a staggering £864 per person. Where did it all go one might ask? On pointless and generally uneconomic schemes not justified by any cost/benefit analysis is the answer.

The daft transport schemes such as the Congestion Charge and the ULEZ have actually encouraged people to move out of London and the cuts to public transport that are proposed will expedite that trend. With falling income from bus and tube fares already caused by the pandemic, the outlook is certainly bleak. But failing to maintain the infrastructure such as bridges, tunnels and flyovers while the Major prefers to spend money on other things is surely a sign of gross incompetence.

London needs a new transport plan where expenditure is matched to income and needless subsidies removed. In other words, people should pay the cost of the trips they take on public transport and free riders should be stopped. But will a socialist Mayor ever take such steps? I doubt it. So London is likely to go into further decline and more people will move out.

But London is at the heart of the UK economy so there is some justification for central Government stepping in once again to reform London’s governance. We need less populism (which generally means hand-outs to win votes) and more financial acumen in the leadership. Certainly the current arrangement where you have a virtual dictator in the role of Mayor and a toothless London Assembly is not working.

The key to improving the London transport network is not to have it all (both public and private transport) under the control of one body (TfL) which leads to lack of competition and perverse incentives. For example, encouraging cycling to relieve pressure on public transport while causing more road traffic congestion and introducing schemes such as the ULEZ to help subsidise public transport while increasing the cost of private transport.

Perhaps we need a new Dr Beeching to put the London transport network back into a cost-effective structure as he did for British Rail. But at least the Government seems to have taken some rational decisions by cancelling the eastern link of HS2 to Leeds. Just like Crossrail in London, HS2 was never justified in terms of benefits achievable and the money would have been better spent on smaller projects. But politicians love grandiose schemes. Reality seems to be finally sinking in on the national scene even if not yet in London.

Roger Lawson

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  1. Pingback: How to Reform London’s Transport | Freedom for Drivers Foundation

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