New TfL Consultation Hub

Transport for London (TfL) have launched a new “Consultation Hub” where you can give feedback on new projects in London – see https://haveyoursay.tfl.gov.uk/ . You can also register to receive notifications of new consultation events.

This is not just about consulting on future projects but also submitting comments on live ones – such as the trial of E-Scooters that is currently running.

The new consultation “hub” will replace the existing consultation web site (see https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/ ) which contains consultations on Streetspace schemes, bus lanes and other matters at present.

Is this a big improvement or is there any reason for the change? It’s not obvious how this change will help and moving and renaming a web site is never a good idea.

Readers are advised to register with the new site so as to be sure of being informed on new consultations.

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Inflexible Trains and Trams – Birmingham Halts Metro Services

I have pointed out in previous articles that trains and trams are not just expensive to build and run, bit are also very inflexible. They are also vulnerable to breakdowns of individual trains/trams that can rapidly bring the whole of a network to a halt.

A good example of their inflexibility has been given by the halting of all services on the West Midlands Metro system. A fault has been found on the trams so all 21 trams have been withdrawn from services until further notice.

Would this have happened if the service had used buses? No because trams are typically specially constructed vehicles so cannot be easily replaced while buses are more standard and can be rented at short notice.

Many people, including public transport managers and politicians have an irrational love of trams. They forget the lessons of history. Birmingham had an extensive tram network which ran from 1904 until 1953. But it was abandoned in favour of buses which enable routes to be changed very quickly and with much lower maintenance costs. That’s was why trams were withdrawn in Birmingham and many other UK cities after the second world war.

The closure of the West Midlands Metro service is particularly damaging because the new CAZ in Birmingham starts today (14th June). Car users now face a charge of £8 per day unless they run a compliant vehicle.

There is a Facebook group for those who oppose the Birmingham CAZ: https://www.facebook.com/groups/abcaz

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Lewisham Cancels School Streets with No Schools Idea

Lewisham Council has been introducing “School Streets” recently, i.e. timed closures around schools. This was apparently to overcome the objections to the road closures such as in the Lee Green LTN which has been causing much worse traffic congestion. As there seemed to be some public support for School Streets, the Council then decided to introduce “School Streets” into roads where there were no schools. This was probably aimed at reducing through traffic.

But they have now reconsidered. They now say: “After careful consideration, and having listened to the feedback we received, we will not go ahead with the proposals. The feedback was mixed, with some strongly in favour and some strongly opposed to the approach”.

Comment: It is good that they have back-tracked on this which was an unethical way of sneaking in road closures.

They are also promising a public consultation shortly, which they say will be widely publicised, in the Lewisham and Lee Green Low Traffic LTN. But why is it taking so long? And it’s never a very good idea to do public consultations in the middle of summer for obvious reasons.

See https://lewishamcovidresidentialstreets.commonplace.is/news/ltn-consultation-june-2021? for more details.

Roger Lawson

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Croydon Decides on ANPR to Close LTN

The Cabinet of Croydon Council has approved Councillor Muhammad Ali’s decision to implement ANPR cameras in the Crystal Palace and South Norwood area to enforce a Low Traffic Neighbourhood. This is despite all the evidence, opposition from local residents and a public consultation. This decision also affects residents in the adjacent borough of Bromley who may yet have some say in the matter (they previously threatened legal action).

The previous closure created horrendous traffic congestion and no doubt it will now come back. This is a completely undemocratic decision and the only option remaining is probably a legal challenge for which we believe there are good grounds.

Although there may be some exceptions made to the enforcement, these are public roads which should be available to everyone.

You can obtain the 450 page report to the Scrutiny and Overview Committee on the 23rd March on which the decision by Mr Ali was presumably based from here: https://tinyurl.com/a4j9ysn5

Roger Lawson

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London Transport Commissioner and Mayor’s Special Pleading

The Evening Standard has published an article by London’s Transport Commissioner, Andy Byford (see Reference 1). In it he welcomes the £1 billion in Government funding to keep Transport for London running for another few months.

But like Sadiq Khan’s press release over the deal (see Reference 2), it complains about the lack of a “long-term settlement”. The Mayor even called it “yet another sticking plaster”. They do not seem to understand that the basic problem is that they are looking for taxpayers (i.e. you and me as represented by the Government) to fund an uneconomic business called Transport for London.

Andy Byford does spell out where some of the money will go which includes this: “And it means we can continue with innovative and creative schemes to decarbonise transport by 2030 and to clean-up London’s air through the expansion of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone, further electrifying the bus fleet, promoting active travel — including more Santander cycles — and improving road safety”. In other words, they are spending taxpayers’ money to expand the ULEZ (a very ineffective scheme on a cost/benefit analysis) and provide more cycles. Clearly the approach seems to be to spend their way out of trouble in the socialist paradise of London.  

The Mayor says that TfL only needs emergency funding from the Government because the Covid epidemic cut fare income by 90%. That might have been true in the short term and over a few weeks but the details do not seem to have been disclosed. Usage of public transport is fast recovering so this may be only a temporary problem and the financial problems of TfL are a long-standing failure to run a prudent budget that takes into account not just operating costs but capital expenditure and financing costs in addition.

Regrettably the Mayor is acting like the animal that bites the hand that feeds it with his attacks on the Government.

Roger Lawson

Reference 1: Evening Standard article: https://tinyurl.com/2fc4vtut

Reference 2: Mayor of London Press Release: https://tinyurl.com/82uwfr38

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Telegraph Summarises Surveys Against LTNs, and John Redwood’s Blog Article

The Daily Telegraph has published an analysis of the 10 consultations on Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) that local councils have reported to date. Three quarters of the people consulted over LTNs and cycle lanes opposed them.

The councils reporting their survey results include Harrow (82% opposed) and Windsor + Maidenhead (89% opposed). One exception was Bromley though with 64% supporting but their schemes are very limited in scope.

The newspaper also reported that one in three councils have axed, modified or reduced their active travel schemes. They also quote Tony Devenish, Conservative London Assembly Members as saying: “My Government is at fault to some extent, because they gave councils the power not to publicly consult for up to 18 months. You can’t just do these things to people. There has been absolute outcry from the Great British public – and that’s why so many councils have had to U-turn”.

But some Councils such as Lewisham have avoided doing public consultations despite promising to do them, or they keep moving the goalposts by changing the nature of the road closures (for example by changing them to “School Streets” or by reissuing Traffic Orders to avoid legal challenges).

Comment: Such public surveys show that the general public (even those who don’t own a car but rely on public transport such as buses), are opposed to the obstruction of our roads. Roads are essential for the movement of people and goods.

In Praise of the Car

John Redwood, M.P., has spelled out the advantages of cars in a good article on his blog (see Reference 2 below). He says: “Acquiring your first vehicle is a major advance in your personal freedom. Yet today government, Councils and better off greens from the security of their homes in major cities lecture the rest of us on the wickedness of the car. The better off Green city dweller can rely more on the tube or mass transit and has the money for taxis when needed. The aim is to get people out of car ownership or to reduce their use of the car, and in the meantime to cow people into keeping quiet about their reliance on this flexible and most popular form of transport”.

He explains at length why cars are more practical and economic for most of the journeys which he takes. A number of good comments have been added. I hope Grant Shapps reads the article.

Reference 1: Telegraph Article: https://tinyurl.com/2d44vbcn

Reference 2: Redwood Article: https://tinyurl.com/cchhcurc

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Crossing Lights Permanently at Red, No TfL Settlement, Electric Boris Bikes and E-Scooter Trials

Green Lights for Pedestrians

Transport for London (TfL) have announced their latest attack on vehicle users. A number of light-controlled pedestrian crossings are being changed so that they are permanently set at red for vehicles. Pedestrians will see a permanent green signal until a vehicle approaches when it might then change to red. But how soon? And won’t it encourage drivers to ignore the red lights they see when there is obviously no pedestrian waiting to cross?

This change will be made to 18 pedestrian crossings, initially in Tower Hamlets, Newham, Hounslow, Richmond and Hillingdon. The justification is that locations of high pedestrian flow require such a change. See Reference 1 below for the TfL press release.

No TfL Settlement

It seems the Government has not responded to Sadiq Khan’s 115-page document based on what was said at the Mayor’s Question Time. The existing temporary funding settlement to keep TfL afloat expires today (28th May). The Mayor said there has been “no engagement” on the Mayor’s proposals which include giving the Mayor power over Vehicle Excise Duty and imposing a charge to drive into the outer London boroughs. The latter is strongly opposed by the Conservatives who dominate in the outer London boroughs and the surrounding shires and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has opposed both ideas.

Comment: It seems we edge even closer to the Government taking control of TfL, as they should do, as a settlement of this problem seems increasingly unlikely. TfL and the Mayor seem to be like most socialists – namely unable to plan for budgets that enable them to live within their means without raising more taxes. They will keep spending until the Government tells them to stop.

Electric Boris Bikes

Santander is to extend their sponsorship of TfL’s flagship cycle hire scheme until 2025 and the scheme’s first e-bikes will be rolled out in summer next year. It will be expanded to cover new parts of the city and there will be a permanent discount for NHS staff. There were a record number of hires in the past year. See Reference 2 for the TfL press release.

What are the finances of the Santander bike hire scheme and what are Santander contributing? The press release is remarkably silent on the costs and income. But this is what Wikipedia say on the figures in 2016: “TfL funded a net £3.6 million to the scheme in the 2016/17 period during which ~10 million bikes were hired, this equates to 16.9% of the scheme’s operating costs being funded by subsidy this is on par with TfL’s operating costs as a whole”. It appears that TfL are therefore massively subsidising the scheme and Santander are simply paying for the advertising of their name. Expanding the scheme will drive TfL even further into deficit however worthy it might be to get more people cycling.

E-Scooters Trial

TfL have also announced that a trial of E-Scooters will commence in London on the 7th June. The operators will be Dott, Lime and Tier. They will be limited to 12.5 mph, must have lights and audible warning signals.

They will only be allowed to be used on roads and in cycleways, which is the only legal use permitted by any e-scooter but this law is of course regularly ignored by e-cycle users and the police do not have the resources to enforce the law. So they are regularly ridden on pavements.

They are also regularly abandoned on pavements which causes problems for disabled people.

Comment: E-Scooters are positively dangerous to pedestrians when ridden on pavements, and are also dangerous to the e-scooter riders as they are less conspicuous to drivers of vehicles than cyclists.

We will await the outcome of the trials but from the evidence seen to date they do not appear to be safe.

All pedestrians who see cyclists or e-scooter riders on the pavement should tell them to get off, and stand in their way until they do. They might then get the message!

Reference 1: Pedestrian Priority: https://tinyurl.com/37k66bvn

Reference 2: Cycle Hire Scheme:  https://tinyurl.com/fdzwae2v

Reference 3: E-Scooter Trials: https://tinyurl.com/vxbsarwt

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Millions Collected in Fines from LTNs

The Times have reported that drivers have racked up £14 million in fines in London in just a few months by driving into Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs). Cameras were introduced to stop people driving through “bus gates” or into these zones instead of using physical barriers as the latter prevent emergency vehicles from accessing the roads.

The penalty for driving through the cameras is £130 and many people have collected PCNs because they have not noticed the signs. An extreme example given by the Times is that of Ivan Izikowitz who collected 58 fines totalling £7,500 after temporarily leaving home to help his wife in Lewisham.

But there are many other examples reported to us of people collecting fines about which they are very angry. Roads which were previously opened and regularly used catch people out, particularly as satnav systems have often not been updated to take account of the closure.

The £14 million total was collected in just 10 London boroughs and Lewisham obtained more than any other borough. Lewisham and other boroughs are of course keen to extract more money from motorists to help with their budget problems, but there is no justification for this behaviour.

The road closures should be removed as the Covid pandemic does not justify them and they have many other negative consequences.

Times article: https://tinyurl.com/b8u2hyzb

London road closures: https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/london-road-closures.htm

Lewisham campaign against closures: https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/lewisham.htm

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Biggin Hill Airport Pushes for Lease Changes

Biggin Hill Airport lies within the Borough of Bromley. The local council owns the airport and has leased it to Biggin Hill Airport Ltd (BHAL) for use essentially for private flying and “general aviation”, i.e. not for scheduled commercial flights. But BHAL have long desired to expand activities at the airport to make it more commercially viable. Local residents have strongly objected to any expansion because there is a lot of housing near or under the flight paths and complaints about noise are common.

BHAL have now applied for a variation of the lease to permit scheduled and non-scheduled commercial flights…including by accepting “individual farepaying passengers….”, although limits on the number of flights will remain and BHAL say the number of flights will not significantly change. If the council rejects the request to vary the lease, BHAL will appeal to the Upper Tribunal.

A local group called Flightpath Watch is active in opposing changes to the airport that might increase noise (see logo above). There are also concerns about poor road access to the airport. Few people desire to turn Biggin Hill into another major London airport.

You can read the full details and likely council response here: https://tinyurl.com/jsaxubr4 . Local residents who are concerned should make representations to the council or their local councillors on this matter.

Comment: The case for changing the lease as desired by BHAL appears unjustified although some change may be acceptable. But it is not totally clear why BHAL requires the proposed change. I recommend opposition unless the case for change is made more evident.

Roger Lawson

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Great British Railways Plan – But Will It Be Great?

The Government has published the Williams Review of proposals for how Britain’s railways should be reformed. The existing franchise system for the train operating companies with a separate company managing the tracks which was introduced in the 1990s has proved to be a dismal failure.

Network Rail went bust and although the franchise services have been improved in some regards, the recent collapse in ridership due to the Covid epidemic has meant the Government had to step in to keep franchises afloat. The franchise system was also exceedingly complicated with horrendously complicated contracts to supposedly provide the right incentives to train operators. It did not stop arguments over who was to blame for delays to services. But the Government (i.e. you and me via taxation) ended up providing even bigger subsidies and in ways that were not that obvious.

Train delays are common. The report says that one third of trains were late in 2019/20 and this has barely improved in the past five years.

Now the Williams-Shapps Plan is now proposing a brave new world of Government control. Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, said: “Great British Railways marks a new era in the history of our railways. It will become a single familiar brand with a bold new vision for passengers – of punctual services, simpler tickets, and a modern and green railway that meets the needs of the nation.”

That sounds remarkably like the old British Rail does it not?

New flexible season tickets are promised that will help those who are now only commuting into offices a few days per week and simpler and less confusing tickets are foretold. Paper tickets will disappear and there will be a new app to enable easy booking (this will compete with companies such as Trainline on the web).

Train operating franchises will be replaced by “Passenger Service Contacts”. It is not clear how that is different though. More fine words from the report are: “Under single national leadership, our railways will be more agile: able to react quicker, spot opportunities, make common-sense choices, and use the kind of operational flexibilities normal in most organisations, but difficult or impossible in the current contractual spider’s web”. One claim is that Great British Railways will make the railways more efficient, long the complaint of those who have looked at the finances of the system.

Comment: There is certainly a desire for change as the existing franchise system and separate rail track maintenance system was clearly inefficient. Rail passengers still do not pay for the real costs of running the trains and building/maintaining the tracks except on heavily used commuter lines in the London area. But the essential problem is that the cost of operating trains is high when passenger usage is concentrated into a few hours per day while the public expects a service 18 hours per day or longer. Another problem is that the cost of building and maintaining the tracks and signalling is enormously expensive in comparison with roads.

For example, according to articles in the Guardian (a keen supporter of railways), the cost per mile of building a motorway is £30 million per mile. Does that sound high? But the cost of a new railway such as HS2 is £307 million per mile!

Railways are old technology that intrinsically require expensive track and expensive signalling systems to maintain safety. If a train breaks down or signals fail the whole network is disrupted while this rarely causes a problem on roads. The breakdown of one vehicle on a road makes little impact and traffic actually flows through broken traffic lights quite easily while they are easier to repair.

There is a very amusing section in the report on the “blame culture” that operates at present, and how arguments thus generated are resolved. That’s very worth reading alone.

Changing a rail timetable normally takes 9 months apparently and there have been some big problems as a result in the past. For example in 2019 Northern Rail missed more than a quarter of million stops allegedly after a botched timetable change and generated thousands of customer complaints. You don’t hear of such problems with bus services which are intrinsically more flexible.

How will Great British Railways affect services in London, where commuter surface rail lines are operated by separate companies at present. This is what the Williams report says: “In London and the South East, a new strategic partnership will be established to support housing, economic growth and the environment across the highly interconnected transport network in that part of the country. This will bring together Great British Railways, TfL and local authorities and businesses to coordinate timetabling and investments and to provide a consistent passenger experience in areas such as accessibility, ticketing and communications”. Sounds wonderful does it not, but the devil is surely in the detail.

Ultimately the Government will still be in control of the railways under this plan, so it’s effectively a renationalisation under a different name. That may please some but no nationalised industry has ever been an economic success or pleased their customers. I foretell disappointment.

You can read the full Williams report, which is a panegyric to the future of rail travel in the country here: https://tinyurl.com/3rhcd8e5

Roger Lawson

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