Deputy Transport Mayor Replaced

London’s Deputy Mayor for Transport, Heidi Alexander, has resigned. Her replacement is Seb Dance (photo above) who was formerly a Member of the European Parliament representing the Labour Party.

What experience or qualifications does he have to take on this job, such as previous knowledge or work in the transport sector? None so far as I can find although I have asked him (no response so far). So just as Heidi Alexander was appointed when she had no relevant experience, we have another Labour Party politician who is going to have to learn from scratch about the problems of TfL and London’s transport systems when the systems are in crisis.

I guess he did need another job but the Major should not be appointing his pals and political friends to responsible positions in this way. TfL have enough problems without amateurs getting involved.

Roger Lawson

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Higher Congestion Charge Stays, But Hours Cut

In June 2020 the London Congestion Charge (a.k.a. tax) was increased from £11.50 to £15.00 and the hours of coverage were extended. This was stated to be a temporary increase to cope with the Covid epidemic which was expected to lead to more people using private vehicles, when in fact traffic has reduced as more people worked from home.

Now the Mayor has announced more changes which are:

Phase 1 (from 20 December 2021)

The charge level will stay at £15.

The 90 per cent residents’ discount will be re-opened for all eligible residents to register for the discount.

The delayed payment charge will be £17.50 and the deadline will be extended to three days after the day of travel.

The Auto Pay and Fleet Auto Pay discount will be removed – that means an additional £1 payable for those registered with Auto Pay (a high proportion of payers).

The reimbursement arrangements that were introduced as part of the temporary changes will be retained or adapted to ensure that people most vulnerable to infection from epidemics and pandemics will continue to be protected. This will also facilitate essential trips made by NHS staff in times of exceptional or extraordinary circumstances including for commuting purposes – see https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/driving/reimbursements-of-the-congestion-charge-and-ulez-charge for details.

The ability for residents to pay by App or online for multiple consecutive charging days will be removed.

Phase 2 (from 21 February 2022)

The operating hours for the Congestion Charge will be 07:00-18:00 on weekdays and 12:00-18:00 on weekends and Bank Holidays.

There was a public consultation on the proposed changes although only 9,680 responses were received when there are 2.6 million cars registered in London. Clearly most people affected did not know about it. The consultation did not ask simple questions about whether people supported the proposals or not. Our comment that the proposals lacked any evidence base to support them were reported however.

But the consultation report (available from here: https://haveyoursay.tfl.gov.uk/congestion-charge-changes ) claims that the Congestion Charge was successful in reducing congestion which is simply not true. This is a blatant lie repeatedly made by TfL. See our analysis on this page: https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/congestion.htm . There has been no published data on traffic journey times in recent years, for reasons you can guess, but the experience of most drivers suggests it has got worse not better.

Comment: The Congestion Charge has always been about taxing London’s motorists to raise money for the Mayor and TfL to spend money on subsidising uneconomic public transport and on their bloated empire. These changes may mean that TfL will make over £100 million more in taxation if the higher Congestion Charge is retained.

You cannot tackle traffic congestion by charging because the unsatisfied demand for private transport is so high that people will pay almost anything for it and any road space released is soon filled up by new entrants. During the pandemic that is even more the case.

Roger Lawson

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Making London Transport Sustainable

The battle over funding for London’s Transport goes on.  At the time of writing the government has granted a paltry 7-day extension of funds to TfL while demanding Mayor Sadiq Khan comes up with alternative proposals for how he will generate an extra £500m – £1bn a year to fund his apparently unsustainable transport system.  This while at the same time the Government is encouraging people to work from home again, significantly reducing public transport usage once more. In granting this 7-day extension it’s interesting to note the plans proposed by Khan, which the government rightly rejected.  These were:

•         A return of VED paid by London car owners to TfL

•         A Greater London Boundary Charge, charging motorists who come from outside London into it £3.50 a day.

•         A levy on deliveries made for online purchases, targeting delivery drivers.

Other ideas still on the table include raising the Congestion Charge and ULEZ tax rates.  The latter would be after the recently expanded zone failed to raise the income anticipated. Khan may speak of how it has reduced the number of polluting vehicles, but you do not introduce a new tax without planning on it raising substantially more revenue in the future.

What do all the above have in common? They are all targeting private motor vehicles – the car and delivery vans. Khan’s message is crystal clear: he wants to raise money from drivers rather than tackle the basic problem that public transport users in London do not pay for the cost of the services that are provided. It’s unsustainable.

Fundamental reform is needed to make transport in London more sustainable. Only then will Sadiq Khan need to stop asking the Government for more bail-outs.

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Mayor Pleads, But Now Threatens

First Mayor Sadiq Khan pleads with the Government for more money to fund Transport for London in their financial crisis. But with the Government reluctant to concede without a clear picture on future budgets, now he has turned to threatening the public.

He has announced that he plans to increase his share of council tax by £20 per year to support TfL and phase out the over 60+ Oyster card. This will presumably not affect the over 65 Freedom Pass. Fares on the network are planned to increase by inflation plus one per cent next year which will be an over 5% increase.

In addition he plans to scrap Travelcards making the network paperless – contactless bank, credit cards or Oyster cards can be used instead if you have one. Also tube journeys on the Piccadilly line to Heathrow will be charged at a premium rate.

Comment: As usual the Mayor blames the Government for forcing him to make these changes which is primarily the result of his own financial mismanagement.

But these changes are not unreasonable. If Londoners wish to have their public transport subsidised then it is not unfair to put it on Council Tax rather than introduce new taxes such as the ULEZ. The latter imposes charges on people who may not use public transport. Increasing charges to everyone in London as most will use public transport to some extent is fairer and scrapping the 60+ Oyster Card is not unreasonable. The 60+ card was never justified but was just a bribe to win electoral favour when most people could afford to pay the normal fares.

Increasing fares by inflation and more also makes sense as clearly at present fares paid do not cover the cost of running the TfL network.

But we still do not have a clear picture of how the Mayor is going to make TfL financially sustainable.

Roger Lawson

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Bromley Road Safety Record Beats Most Others

The London Borough of Bromley publishes a newsletter for residents. The latest edition contains a very interesting article comparing the road safety record of Bromley with other south-east London boroughs. The table below was included in the article.

It is particularly noticeable how much better Bromley has been at improving road safety than adjacent boroughs such as Lewisham or Croydon. The borough of Croydon spent millions of pounds on wide-area 20 mph speed limits, clearly with minimal impact when they could have spent it on more targeted measures. Likewise Lewisham imposed 20 limits across the whole borough but have lagged behind in reducing casualties.

In 2020 Bromley reduced KSIs from 107 to 77 which may only be partly explained by the reduction in traffic from epidemic lock-downs.

Keep up the good work Bromley!

But boroughs such as Lewisham and Croydon are driven by dogma which undermines a lot of sensible road safety improvements. Will they ever learn? Perhaps only when more intelligent councillors are elected and more reliance is placed on expert officer opinions with adequate budgets.

Roger Lawson

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More Leisure Cycling But Not Otherwise

Cllr Vincent Stops posted this comment on Twitter on 9/12/2021: “Whatever London’s Cycling Czar, Will Norman tweets, this is what TfL’s statisticians told their Board meeting yesterday in public about post-pandemic cycling. Unsurprisingly, neither he nor the cycle bloggers, academics nor journos have commented. Please note: percentage changes”:

Cycling as a leisure activity clearly increased during weekends, but overall the level of cycling did not increase during the pandemic despite numerous exhortations to do so and measures to encourage it. Cycling actually fell along with other travel modes. Clearly cycling as a regular mode of travel did not prove any more popular despite claims to the contrary.

Cllr Vincent Stops is a Hackney Councillor who chairs a Planning Committee. He told the Hackney Post in December: “It’s better to create safer roads for everyone. I think cycle bloggers have too much influence.”

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Another Legal Challenge to Hackney LTN Rejected

Another challenge to an Experimental Traffic Order used to implement an LTN in Hackney, brought on behalf of a disabled child, has been rejected by the High Court. This was not a judicial review but using provisions in the Road Traffic Regulation Act. The challenge was based on increased journey times which breached the Equality Act, the failure to consult properly and that the Traffic Order we unjustified. But all the grounds were rejected.

Comment: This case demonstrates how difficult it is to challenge Experimental Traffic Orders which only have limited duration and which were supported by Government Guidance when the pandemic arose. The judiciary seem to be accepting that local councils are not unreasonable in taking emergency steps to close roads irrespective of how irrational that was in practice.

For a fuller report on the case and the judgement, see this report by Local Government Lawyer:  https://tinyurl.com/2d9dch9c

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London Is Now The Most Congested City

A report by traffic information supplier Inrix says London has become the most congested city in the world. Its drivers are losing an average of 148 hours per years sitting in traffic. Other UK cities with major congestion problems are Cambridge, Bristol, Exeter and Cheltenham.

Inrix’s Peter Lees blames a lot of the problem on cycle lanes which have made congestion worse. That is certainly true in London where the expenditure on cycle lanes has been very counter-productive. Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) have also contributed in a big way to increased traffic congestion in many parts of London.

Comment: The result in London is a direct consequence of the defective Mayor’s Transport Strategy which has encouraged cycling when that remains a minority interest. Public transport has been massively subsidised while the road network has been corrupted by dogmatic policies.

The Mayor needs to learn that you cannot solve traffic congestion by taxing motorists as should be self-evident by now. Clearly a different approach is needed but the Mayor and TfL management put their heads in the sand and ignore the problems they have created.

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Electric Vehicles and Pod Point IPO

If the Government has its way, we’ll all be driving electric cars (EVs) soon. One of the concerns of drivers though is they might run out of battery power so the provision of chargers is of key importance in driving acceptance of electric cars.

There is clearly a big potential market for chargers, not just in homes but also in public places, at office car parks, supermarkets and other venues. One of the providers of chargers is Pod Point Group (PODP) who recently undertook a public stock market listing (IPO). The prospectus they issued (see link below) gives a very good overview of the market for electric vehicles and the charging infrastructure in the UK.

Pod Point was founded in 2009 and has installed over 100,000 charge points mainly in the UK. There are government grants available (OZEV) for home installations although those are likely to be withdrawn or altered from 2022. The government is also funding from 2022 large on-street charging schemes and rapid charging hubs across England. Meanwhile car manufacturers are focussing on production of new electric only (Battery Electric Vehicles – BEVs) and hybrid models. Some 6.6% of new vehicles sales were EVs in 2020 and by 2040 it is estimated that 70% of all vehicles on our roads will be EVs.

Chargers fall into two main categories – AC and DC with the latter providing more rapid charging. Home charging is typically via slow AC because UK homes do not have 3-phase electricity supplies. There are several different connector types. Pod Point estimate they have 50-60% of the UK home charge points and 29% share of public installations. But there are a number of competitors include BP Pulse. Petrol station forecourts are one location where chargers are being installed but it is unclear where the dominant charging location (home, office, etc) will be in future.

Those people with homes with no off-street parking will need to charge at public locations unless viable “pavement” chargers are developed. London-based Connected Kerb plans to install 190,000 on-street chargers by 2030.

Pod Point owns some installations under commercial arrangements with venue locations and that includes 396 Tesco sites where slow chargers are installed. Is that to encourage shoppers to spend more time in the store while their vehicle is recharging one wonders?

Pod Point doubled its revenue in 2020 and more than doubled its revenue in the first six months of 2021, but still made a large operating loss. The market cap of Pod Point at the time of writing is about £380 million.

How the market for the provision of EV chargers will develop is unclear and there are the usual numerous risk warnings in the prospectus. Government interference in the sector is clearly one risk and when a market is growing rapidly there are often folks willing to plunge in regardless of short-term profitability. The big oil companies are also moving into the sector and might provide significant competition.

But if you are interested in electric vehicles, it’s worth reading the Pod Point prospectus.

Roger Lawson (Twitter:  https://twitter.com/Drivers_London )

Pod Point Group Prospectus: https://investors.pod-point.com/prospectus

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How to Reform London’s Transport

Following on from my previous blog post about the financial crisis faced by Transport for London (TfL) and the Mayor (see link below) I have given some thought to how the problems might be resolved.

The solution from Sadiq Khan and London’s Transport Commissioner is to ask the Government for more money. Not just some millions of pounds in immediate bail-outs but billions in the next few years.  There is no doubting the dire financial situation that TfL has got itself into partly because of the Covid epidemic which has reduced income substantially. But it was slow in responding to that and had not been managing its financial resources properly for years.

The big problem is that TfL has been run to pander to its political master whose key focus is to please the population of London so they can get re-elected when the time comes. But TfL is not just a useful transport service to serve the growing population of London but is in essence a business. It should be run like a business and if it is not it will continue to rack up losses and need repeated bail-outs.

The rot set in when the Mayor of London was given responsibility for TfL (and he chairs the Board of TfL), particularly when TfL took over responsibility for all underground, bus and main roads in the capital. From Ken Livingstone onwards, decisions have been made to please the electorate rather than ensure that TfL ran on a commercial basis. Ken expanded the bus network enormously which resulted in subsidies of over £1billion per year. Buses ran more frequently on routes that were often under-used but only now is the network being reduced.

Concessionary fares such as the Freedom Pass were expanded – again a very popular policy but one which imposed costs on the transport operators even if local councils covered some of the costs.

Ken installed a Congestion Charge system (in essence a tax) while promising it would solve traffic congestion which it never did and now we have the ULEZ tax which it was claimed would solve London’s air pollution problems, but which it has not – see Reference 2.

Sadiq Khan froze public transport fares for 5 years until March 2021. This no doubt helped him to get elected. But this was a political decision not a sensible financial one. He gambled on revenues from Crossrail filling the budget gap that was created but that project was over budget and severely delayed. When the Covid epidemic hit there was no margin of safety left to absorb the reduction in income that comes from bus and tube fares.

Instead of cutting services to meet the reduced demand level and hence save costs, services were maintained at a high level for political reasons and to avoid conflicts with trade unions. That’s not how any commercial business would have tackled the problem.

TfL is a commercial business where less than half its income comes from fares paid by willing customers. Much of it comes from grants and other subsidies, often indirectly from taxpayers. That is the core of the problem which no politician, whatever the hue of the Major of London, is going to tackle.

The solution to many of these problems is to remove TfL from elected political control and give it a clear mandate to be run solely on a commercial basis. A commission, independent from the Mayor of London, should be established with very specific terms of reference which should be binding on a new London Transport Commissioner. Such a commission should report to a Government minister but be independent in terms of policy making and executive decisions, i.e. the Government and any Mayor of London should only have a consultative role.

The remaining issue is whether roads and public transport should be combined under the same Transport Commissioner with roads being financed and maintained to some extent from public transport fares. Although the Mayor currently obtains some income from the Congestion and ULEZ charges, he argues that he should receive a share of national taxes used to finance road development and maintenance. That would only make sense if it was removed from political control in London.

But there is a built-in basis for irrational decisions if the London Transport Commissioner is responsible for multiple transport modes – underground, surface rail, London buses, taxis/PHVs and private vehicles (cars, LGVs and HGVs). Each of these should be made standalone businesses so that no one role subsidises the other. They should be made independent profit and cost centres. London Underground should not subsidise London Buses and vice versa. Road vehicles including buses should be covering the maintenance costs of the road network (including that for bridges, flyovers and tunnels) in London. If there is any surplus in any one sector it should be used to expand the relevant network and improve services, not be used to subsidise other loss-making activities.

The claim for a single transport body such as TfL was that it would enable the construction of an integrated transport system but apart from a common fare payment system there is little real integration.

The above is a manifesto to reform London transport so that it meets the needs of consumers of its services on a viable economic basis in the future. No other solution can do that.

There are of course other possible escapes from TfL’s financial problems. It has assets it could sell off. Perhaps someone would like to buy the London Underground?  But that will never happen while it is subject to political interference. Or it could borrow more money but that would not solve the basic financial problem. When expenditure exceeds income in your household budget, the last thing you should do is to increase your mortgage or raise the limit on your credit cards.

As it stands, the Mayor’s only solution seems to be to ask his fairy godmother (the Government) to come up with oodles of more cash. The Government should ignore the Mayor’s wailing and threats and get down to imposing substantial reform along the lines I suggest.

Roger Lawson

Ref 1. Transport Crisis in London blog post: https://freedomfordrivers.blog/2021/11/19/transport-crisis-in-london/ 

Ref 2. ULEZ Had Minimal Impact blog post: https://freedomfordrivers.blog/2021/11/17/ulez-had-minimal-impact-on-air-pollution/

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