London Congestion Charging is a Disaster

New York has been considering a congestion charge for some years, but it has always been opposed by surrounding boroughs. A good article in the New York Times (see link below), spells out why it should not happen in an article which is headlined “Congestion pricing is coming to NYC — though London shows it’s a disaster”.

This is some of what the article, written by Joe Borelli, minority leader of the New York City Council, says:

“Before Gov. Kathy Hochul and the Legislature smack us with this new tax, they may want to check whether it actually works.

Will it deliver on its promise to greatly reduce traffic congestion, improve air quality and address transit-revenue gaps?

If you ask Londoners, certainly not.

The city’s traffic scheme has not lived up to the hype, and now London is not only the most congested city in the United Kingdom, it is the most congested city in the world.

In 2021, London drivers lost an average of 148 hours to congestion, costing $1,211 per driver, as it topped the most recent Global Traffic Scorecard compiled by INRIX, a leading transportation-analytics firm. (If you’re wondering, New York City is only the fifth-most congested city, just below Moscow.)

This study isn’t an outlier. Pre-COVID London was ranked among the worst traffic cities by the TomTom Traffic Index, “out-trafficking” crowded cities like Shenzhen and Kuala Lumpur. An earlier 2019 Inrix traffic analysis further confirms London has more congestion than New York. Imagine that — the Empire State, the Big Apple taking their cue from a city whose solution is worse than our problem. Bollocks!

Despite London’s ballyhooed congestion charge, it’s planning a massive restructuring. The CO2 from all the idling cars clogging the capital have spurred Mayor Sadiq Khan to propose scrapping the current £15 ($20) fee system altogether in favor of an entirely new scheme in which all London drivers would incur an initial surcharge and pay an existing “Ultra Low Emission Zone” fee, plus pay-per-mile charges as needed.

Nothing screams “Success!” or “Replicate me!” like London’s leadership proposing a start-from-scratch overhaul because the system failed to meet its goals.

Essentially, London may soon be charging motorists as if they were taxi passengers — except they will be driving themselves in their own cars, along streets their tax money already pays for. We could chuckle about the absurdity of all this if only Democrats like President Joe Biden were not already pushing our own mileage-tax proposals here in the States.

The real reason London leaders are planning a vastly expanded tax structure on all vehicles may be far more cynical than saving the planet: The city desperately needs more revenue. Despite all the fees and fines it has collected since congestion pricing went into effect, the city’s public transit and roadway agency, Transport for London (TfL), is going broke.

As it stands, despite receiving a massive COVID bailout from the national government, TfL needs another $1.3 billion annually to operate in the black. Even before the pandemic, TfL’s budget shortfalls and cost overruns were more consistent than its bus schedule.

All this should sound eerily familiar to outer-borough New Yorkers who at present pay for the privilege of driving to posh Manhattan while their own streets remain choked in transit deserts.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority already runs its own version of congestion pricing, called MTA Bridges and Tunnels. Under this scheme, the state chooses which bridges and tunnels motorists must pay to cross to subsidize the public transportation of others. Just like London, a series of anti-car progressive lefties have pushed increases of these fees to satisfy MTA budget needs. In the past 30 years, those tolls have increased more than 375%. Even Bidenflation can’t keep up.

We don’t need to know how a new driving tax will affect our lives — we are already living it.

London’s congestion-pricing failure should serve as a cautionary tale. But our “leadership” in Albany is not going to read it let alone heed its warnings.

Instead, after New York City’s congestion plan creates more traffic, fails to reduce emissions and produces far less revenue than expected, Hochul & Co. are likely to arrive at the same conclusion as their London counterparts: charge more money, impose higher fees and expand the catchment area.

In the end, all roads lead to revenue”

Mr Borelli is right, the London Congestion Charge (a.k.a. tax) has never worked and is primarily a revenue raising measure. It should be scrapped! And New Yorkers should not follow London’s example.

Roger Lawson

New York Times article: https://nypost.com/2022/03/16/congestion-pricing-is-a-disaster-but-still-coming-to-nyc/

FFDF Page on Congestion Charge: https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/congestion.htm

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Road Pricing Is Coming

Road pricing has proved politically unacceptable to date. But a report from the House of Commons Transport Committee published today (4/2/2022) makes it very clear that it needs to happen and very soon (see link below).

The problem is that VED and fuel duty generate 4% of overall tax receipts. But as people switch to electric vehicles almost all of that will be lost by 2040. In addition traffic congestion might become worse as the cost of journeys will be reduced when nobody is paying for fuel.

The Transport Committee rightly points out that the plethora of local schemes that are now appearing such as the London Congestion Charge/ ULEZ taxes and CAZ schemes in other cities mean too much complexity is the result. There needs to be a single unified national scheme.

How to provide that? Telematics is the answer they suggest when a black box in every vehicle could track usage and enable charging based on distance travelled, roads used, vehicle type used, etc. It could be an ideal solution in essence to meet several policy objectives and yet be user friendly in operation.

The Committee suggests that whatever options are chosen to replace fuel duty should be “revenue neutral” and not cause drivers as a whole to pay more than they do currently. This is quite essential as that was one of the major objections to road pricing in the past. It could enable the Government to raise taxes on motoring when motorists already pay over £50 billion in taxes (only a very small fraction of the money raised is spent on improving our roads – about £7bn).

The Committee also say that the situation is urgent and a recommendation for a road pricing solution needs to be developed by the end of 2022. The only obvious omission from the Report is the lack of consideration of the cost of a national road pricing scheme.

Comment: the Committee’s Report is certainly worth reading. I do not see any viable alternative to their proposals. No doubt there will be opposition from some motoring groups who like to live in the past but they won’t have any other practical solutions to put forward.

As the Report says: “The Government must start an honest conversation with the public on the funding implications for road development and maintenance and for other essential public services of decreased revenue from vehicle excise duty and fuel duty”. I agree but readers should add their own comments to this blog – but please read the Committee’s Report first.

Roger Lawson

Transport Committee Report: https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/8754/documents/88692/default/

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Sadiq Khan’s Plan to Screw Drivers Even More

Two days ago (on 17/01/2022) I pointed out on this blog that the Mayor’s Budget document spelled out that road pricing in London was definitely anticipated. His budgets for future years depend on it.

It became clearer what he is planning yesterday when both the BBC and London Evening Standard provided more details of the Mayor’s plan – see links below.

His proposals include a small daily charge on everyone who drives in London – perhaps £2. He claims this is required based on a report commissioned by City Hall that found that a 27% reduction in London’s car traffic was required by 2030 to meet net-zero ambitions. He has the powers to introduce this but he is also considering a London entry charge for anyone who drives in from outside. A boundary charge (of perhaps £3.5 per day) would require Government consent when they don’t currently favour it.

Longer term, by the end of the decade, he would like to introduce a pay- per-mile system although the technology to do that is not yet available.

In the meantime it looks very likely that he will extend the ULEZ to the whole of London.

The Mayor has said “I have got to make sure there is a disincentive to drive your car, particularly if it is petrol or diesel, when there are alternatives, like public transport”. Yes he would like to force everyone to use public transport which of course he has a financial incentive to advocate. It’s yet another reason to take TfL out of the control of the Mayor.

The justification for these measures is to tackle air pollution and defeat climate change. It certainly won’t do the latter and there is a very good debunking of the claims of death from air pollution on the web site Not a Lot of People Know That – see link below.

Improving air quality is certainly something the Freedom for Drivers Foundation supports but there needs to be a clear cost/benefit and the measures our national Government has been taking have been by far the most effective to reduce air pollution. London’s measures introduced by Sadiq Khan have been enormously financially damaging with very little benefit. He postures about saving the world while spending your money ineffectively.

BBC Report: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-60030127

Evening Standard Report: https://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/sadiq-khan-clean-air-charge-petrol-diesel-cars-ulez-expansion-london-b977223.html?

Deaths from Air Pollution: https://notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com/2017/08/15/claims-of-40000-deaths-from-air-pollution-debunked-by-death-statistics/

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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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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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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Congestion Charge Changes

The Mayor of London has announced a number of proposed changes to the Congestion Charge (a.k.a. tax). This tax was first introduced in 2002 when the charge to enter the central London zone was set at £5. It has subsequently been increased several times with the last change being to raise it to £15 and extend the hours to most of the day and to weekends.

That change was proposed to be a temporary measure to ensure that traffic did not increase during the pandemic as people avoided public transport but was also clearly intended to help with TfL’s budget problems.

It is now proposed to make the £15 charge permanent, but to reduce the charging hours during weekdays to 0700-1800 and weekend hours to 1200-1800.

Residents’ discounts will be reinstated but the previous discount for using Autopay is not reinstated.

You can see details of these changes with a link to the public consultation on this web page: https://haveyoursay.tfl.gov.uk/congestion-charge-changes . PLEASE MAKE SURE YOU RESPOND TO THE CONSULTATION

Comment: As is usual, the Mayor breaks a commitment that the increased charge was temporary so as to make more money. The pandemic is effectively over so there is no longer any justification for the increase. The reduction in hours may give some assistance to entertainment venues in the evening but that is a minor benefit to relatively few people in comparison with the number likely be affected by the increased tax.

The congestion charge has never proved to be effective in reducing traffic congestion and is a very expensive way of collecting more tax. Claims for its success are simply wrong.

The congestion tax should be removed!

See https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/congestion.htm for more details on the history of this tax and the evidence for its failure to achieve its objectives.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Mayor Raking it in from ULEZ Charges

The “This is Money” web site have published a very good article on how the ULEZ charge is generating large amounts of tax money for the Mayor and TfL in London. It reports, based on data obtained by the AA, that the Mayor raked in £107 million in the first year of the ULEZ. See link below for the article.

We pointed out when the ULEZ charge was first proposed that this was about raising money for TfL to plug a big hole in their budgets. It was not primarily about improving the health of Londoners as claimed because any cost/benefit analysis indicates it is very poor value for money. See Reference 2 below for links to past articles.

With the ULEZ expanding in October and likely to affect another 300,000 drivers of older vehicles, the tax income raised will grow exponentially.

This is basically an attack on car drivers, particularly those who cannot afford to buy a new car, such as the elderly or poor.

Implementing the expanded ULEZ will cost £130 million in capital expenditure and by 2030 the expected benefit in reduced emissions is forecast to be zero as the vehicle fleet changes. But will the taxes ever be removed? We doubt it.

In reality the Mayor will plead poverty as he regularly does and the ULEZ and Congestion Charges will increase.

Reference 1: This is Money article: https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/cars/article-9792587/London-rakes-107m-extra-ULEZ-zone-expands-14-weeks.html

Reference 2: FFDF Articles on the ULEZ: https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/environment.htm

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Government Powers Ahead with Decarbonising Transport

An announcement from the Government today spells out the world’s first “greenprint” for decarbonising all modes of domestic transport by 2050.

Plans include a ban on all new “polluting” road vehicles by 2040 and net zero aviation emissions by 2050. The former includes the phasing out of all petrol and diesel HGVs by 2040 – subject to consultation. Consultation will be very important because the practicality of HGVs that need to go long distances without repeated refuelling is important economically. LGVs can probably be electrified but HGVs need to use alternative fuels.

The 2050 commitment applies to aviation emissions and a consultation on that is also launched under the “Jet Zero” banner. It is clear that new technologies and aviation fuels need to be developed to achieve a major reduction in aviation emissions. Whether such changes to reach zero emissions are achievable is not at all clear and the cost, which might be very considerable, is not given.

Similarly the costs of electrification of all rail transport is likely to be enormous as the UK lags far behind other European countries in that regard. Only about 50% of the UK rail network is currently electrified.

The Daily Telegraph has speculated on a new system of road pricing to replace the £30 billion currently raised through taxes on petrol and diesel. But the latest Government announcement leaves out any mention of how that issue is to be tackled.

As with all good political missives, the Government document contains lots of fine words about how the environment will be improved while not inhibiting us from travelling when or where we want (for example, taking holiday flights). It’s a policy statement in essence that leaves out all the detail of how this nirvana is to be achieved and at what cost. It ignores a lot of the practical difficulties. But it’s worth reading to get an impression of what might happen in the next few years.

Government GreenPrint Paper: https://tinyurl.com/8ymtap38

Telegraph Article on “Road Toll Confusion”: https://tinyurl.com/edxxh4rp

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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The Mayor of London’s Agenda and New York’s Congestion Charge

Our new Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has issued a tweet that spells out his priorities. This is what he said:

Okay—here’s the plan:

🔨 Create + protect jobs
💰 Help businesses grow
🌳 Tackle the climate crisis
🏠 Build new homes
🚓 Invest in policing
🎬 Create opportunities for young people
🏆 Celebrate diversity
💪🏽 Root out inequality
⚽ Deliver an amazing Euro2020

<END>

These are all fine words, but rather like the Government’s policies as outlined in the Queen’s Speech, rather short on detail. It also contains phrases like “celebrate diversity” that are not just meaningless, but do not lead to specific actions or budget allocations. Many people would argue that there is too much diversity in London and that leads to social incoherence, and why should the Mayor be spending time or money on celebrating it anyway? We all know that the population of London is now very diverse and we have all come to accept that. So what is there to celebrate?

One big issue is certainly the comment that he plans to “Tackle the Climate Crisis”. Is there one? If you look at many London boroughs who have introduced Low Traffic Neighbourhoods they have justified this on the basis of tackling climate change. They argue that it is important to cut emissions from vehicles when doing so will have minimal impact on the climate. Climate may be influenced by man-made emissions (although some dispute that) but cutting vehicle emissions in London will have a negligible influence. Emissions in London come from many different sources and directly relate to the population of London and their requirements for buildings, heating and transport. The Mayor’s policies imply more businesses, more buildings to accommodate them, more homes for the workers and more infrastructure to support them so this is all contradictory.

Only if the Mayor adopted a policy of reducing the population of London while providing more infrastructure – particularly in terms of transport – would the environment be improved.

New York, New York

It’s interesting to look at another major city which has similar transport problems – a heavily congested road network and a public transport system in deficit. Just like the impact of the Covid epidemic on the budgets of Transport for London, New York is facing a major problem. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) budget (which covers the subway and some bus services and is equivalent to TfL in London) is projecting a deficit of $16 billion for the period 2020 to 2024, even after major cuts in services.

New York is planning to introduce congestion charging to cut traffic and of course generate some income for the MTA – as much as $15 billion by charging $10 to $15 dollars per day for those entering Manhattan. But the adjacent state of New Jersey, from which many people commute into New York City, is threatening retaliation. Senator Laguna and Assemblyman Tully are developing legislation that would impose tolls on non-residents driving between New Jersey and New York. Mr Tully said “We should not be used to fund the MTA”.

This is equivalent to Essex or Kent imposing a tax on Londoners who drive into their counties if Sadiq Khan imposed a toll on those who drive into London from outside the M25 – as he is proposing. This is surely a very good response to such a threat!

County Councils that border the M25 should surely be asking the Government for such legislation, or asking the Government to stop this taxation without representation.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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