TfL Closing Station Car Parks – New Petition Against

I have reported before on Transport for London’s plans to redevelop station car parks into housing. For example at Cockfosters and Arnos Grove – see https://freedomfordrivers.blog/2020/01/19/building-on-station-car-parks/

There is now a new petition on Change,org against the removal of this valuable facility. Although there may be a demand for more housing, this is surely more about TfL crystalising the value of the land and increasing their profits while ignoring the needs of their customers.  

The new petition emphasises that car parks are essential resources for women to get back safely at night to their home in the quiet suburbs of London. Likewise, the station car parks are essential for older people and people with disabilities (not just blue badge holders, but also the many hundreds of thousands of people that have disabilities, but do not hold a blue badge) to be able to access London’s transport network.

Please sign the petition here: https://chng.it/J5sFCNgt28

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Would Micro Cars and Cargo Bikes Help?

Two initiatives that might help to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution in big cities are the promotion of “micro” cars and cargo bikes. The former take up less space on the road and the latter might remove a lot of trips by LGVs to deliver goods.

Micro cars such as the BMW/Isetta or Messerschmitt KR200, otherwise known as “bubble cars” at the time, were popular in the 1950s as they provided very cheap transport with a lower tax rate. From my personal experience of a ride in one they were uncomfortable and very noisy – like sitting in a metal can with a motorcycle engine next to you. But at least they carried more than one person and enabled you to get out of the rain.

Japan encouraged the production of very small vehicles by lower taxation on “kei” cars that had limits on engine capacity – more latterly 660 cc. These proved very popular in Japan and a few other countries but not in western economies with a few exceptions. One such exception was the Suzuki Cappuccino (see photo above) which my wife owned for a time. It might look like a full size car but in fact was less than 11 feet long. Leg room was OK but otherwise the cockpit was cramped for those of even average size.

There are now some new vehicles being sold that attempt to meet the need for very small vehicles. These include the Citroen AMI which is available in France but not the UK.  With a battery under its floor (it’s a BEV electric vehicle), the Ami weighs 485kg, has a range of 43 miles and a regulated top speed of 28mph. But it looks like a brick.

A similar vehicle but somewhat more stylish and which is available in the UK is the electric Renault Twizzy (see photo above). It has a range of up to 56 miles but typically somewhat less. It does not get great reviews in the motoring press and is rated as expensive.

There are competitive vehicles such as the petrol-engined Kia Picanto,  Hyundai i10 and Volkswagen up! plus the battery-powered VW e-up! (range up to 159 miles) and SEAT Mii Electric. My oldest grandson just bought a Picanto as his first car having recently passed his driving test and it’s very impressive in terms of facilities. It looks like a conventional small car.

Another possible contender in the market is the Microlino (not yet available in the UK). This is an electric vehicle which is similar in styling to the old BMW/Isetta and with a good range. 

The pricing of extremely small vehicles tends not to be much less than more conventional vehicles which may be one reason why they have never taken off in the UK. They may be seen as good for driving short distances in big cities but in reality they can be tricky to pilot in heavy traffic where there are much larger vehicles such as buses and HGVs who may not see you.

The countries where they have taken off have been those where there are substantial tax benefits or other fiscal encouragements. In the UK these have been missing. For example, vehicles such as the Renault Twizzy qualify as a “light quadricycle”. Such vehicles have to weigh less than 350kg (not including batteries if they are electric) and have a top speed of less than 28mph. But there’s no plug-in grant money available from the government for the Twizzy because a) it doesn’t travel the required distance on electric power alone and b) in official terms, it’s a quadricycle, not a car; however there’s no road tax to pay. They will not be exempt from the London Congestion Charge after 2025 though.

There could certainly be more incentives to drive very small vehicles in the UK particularly in big cities where they would be environmentally better and ease the parking problems. But in London Sadiq Khan seems keener to discourage all vehicles and to raise the maximum in taxes from them.

Cargo Bikes

Another way to reduce traffic congestion and cut emissions is to promote the use of E-Cargo bikes. The Government has provided £400,000 via the Department for Transport in 2021/22 for the purchase of e-cargo bikes. Funding covers up to 40% of the total cost of an e-cargo bike, up to a maximum of £2,500 for two-wheel models and £4,500 for three-wheel models. See https://energysavingtrust.org.uk/grants-and-loans/ecargo-bike-fund/ for details.

Photo above is from the Energy Savings Trust’s document “Electrifying Last Mile Deliveries” which covers the benefits and applications of cargo bikes, electric vans and micro vehicles. There are certainly many options now available if people wish to dispense with the conventional “white van”. Whether they are easy to maintain and cost effective to run I think will only become clear after more user experience.

Roger Lawson

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Towing Away of Vehicles Was Not Illegal

I mentioned in a previous blog post the claim by the Daily Mail that charging for removing vehicles by Councils was illegal from 1991 (see https://freedomfordrivers.blog/2021/04/05/towing-away-of-vehicles-was-illegal/ ).

I wrote to the London Borough of Camden on this issue and have received the following response:

“I understand, having read your letter, that you believe Camden’s powers to remove and charge for a removal were unlawful at this time [in 2005].

Following the publication within the daily mail, we approached the department for transport (DfT) to outline our concerns regarding the article and potential implications for us and other councils. Additionally we set out our reasons why we did not agree with the position in the explanatory note regarding the ability for local authorities to charge for vehicle removals, storage and disposal.  It was our belief that whilst sections 99-102 of the RTRA 1984 are not the simplest to follow, the legislation needs to be read as a whole to understand the full procedure and all aspects of the process that were covered.

We received a response from DfT that supports our view that local authorities’ powers to charge for the removal, storage and disposal of vehicles remain and were not inadvertently removed and that Sections 102(2) and 102(2A) still exist.

Specifically they stated that section 102(2) RTRA by section 68 Road Traffic Act 1991 were largely undone by the changes subsequently made to section 102(2) by Paragraph 4(2) of Schedule 11 to the TMA 2004. None of these changes as far as they can see had removed a local authority’s power to charge for removal, storage or disposal of a vehicle.

In light of this, it would appear that the explanatory note on page 19 (paragraph 83) is incorrect with respect to borough powers.

Therefore, I do believe the removal of your vehicle was conducted lawfully at the time”.

Having looked at the relevant legislation, which is exceedingly complicated and difficult to understand, it is certainly not clear that there was any intention to remove the power to charge for vehicle removal.

I have therefore accepted Camden Council’s explanation.

Roger Lawson

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Towing Away of Vehicles Was Illegal

The Daily Mail has reported that for many years the removal (towing away) of vehicles as part of parking enforcement operations was not covered by legislation. They say: “An incredible legal gaffe could result in millions of motorists launching appeals against parking penalties handed out over the past 30 years. Enforcement powers relied on by police and local authorities were accidentally deleted from the statute book, the Mail can reveal today. Powers to charge motorists for removing and impounding vehicles were introduced in 1984 but were ‘inadvertently removed due to a drafting error’ in 1991 – and no one noticed until now”.

Some London boroughs such as Hackney and Camden (Hackney towed away 14,673 vehicles from 2011 to 2015 alone) were very active in using this procedure.

As someone who suffered from this pernicious practice in circa 2005 – towed away for slightly overstaying in a parking bay – I have sent the London Borough of Camden a letter requesting a refund of the several hundreds of pounds in charges. I will advise any result in due course.

This practice has been abandoned by most councils except for extreme situations such as causing an obstruction, but it was always a very dubious procedure. In my case the tow company also caused damage to my vehicle which they denied doing.

See https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9431497/Millions-towed-away-drivers-claw-fines-laws-left-statute-book-30-years.html for the Mail article.

Roger Lawson

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Profits from Parking Continue to Rise in London

The news blog MyLondon have reported on the continued rise in the profits made by London Councils from car parking. They report that in 2018/19 the profits were £454.4 million. That compares with about £300 million that we reported in 2010 (see https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/Profiting-from-Parking.pdf ). 

Councils are legally not supposed to make profits from on-street parking but that law is widely ignored. However they can from off-street parking –this is one reason why Westminster is the top earning borough in London with profits of £58 million as they own or operate a number of off-street car parks. But other high earning inner London boroughs have no such excuse.

With council budgets under pressure, increasing parking revenue is seen as an easy way to generate more income. Hence the increases in charges being made by such means as introducing emission-based parking charges and extending CPZs (Controlled Parking Zones). For example, Lewisham has the stated intention to have the whole borough covered by CPZs. This is what Councillor Sophie McGeevor said recently on twitter: “Any surplus from parking revenue is completely absorbed by concessionary fares for public transport. This year we’ve committed to roll our borough wide CPZs. Increased income should mean we can reinvest in cycle hangers & public realm. Totally get that cheap safe storage is key”. Clearly she thinks that permit parking charges are a source of income when legally they are only supposed to cover administration and enforcement costs.

Any surplus from parking charges is supposed to be spent on transport provision but it is typically currently used mainly to subsidise the Freedom Pass and other Concessionary Fare Charges that TfL passes onto local boroughs. But why should vehicle owners be paying for public transport fares rather than the general population?

Want to find out how much your local borough is making from parking charges? Use this template letter to do so:  https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/Parking-Letter-Information-Template.pdf

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Air Pollution in Islington, Finsbury Square Car Park, Rotherhithe Bridge and Hammersmith Bridge

This article contains a summary of some recent news on transport issues of interest to Londoners.

Islington Air Pollution

First London air quality is a hot topic of late and it’s interesting to look at an “Air Pollution Update” published by Islington Council (see https://tinyurl.com/qljusdl for the full report but a few key points follow).

On PM2.5 particulates it reports steady falls from 2010 to 2016 so that road transport now only supplies 28% of the total. Commercial cooking is a larger proportion and has not declined at all while there are lots of other contributors. As regards NO2 which is the other emission that people are concerned with even though the proof that it is dangerous is quite limited, this has been falling sharply since 2005-2007. It might now be half what it was on the latest figures – see chart below from the report.

Islington NO2 Emissions

These declines are probably similar in other London boroughs and air pollution will continue to decline from road transport including cars due to tougher vehicle standards. The Mayor of London’s imposition of a wider area ULEZ is simply not justified.

Finsbury Square Car Park

Those who have worked in the City might be aware that there is an underground car park operated by NCP under Finsbury Square. It has a bowling green and an area of grass on top which is used by City workers in the summer, but it is generally a bit run down with abandoned petrol stations still there. But now there are plans to redevelop it. What the redevelopment might contain is not clear as the plans have not been made public. It would certainly be a pity if one of the few car parks in the City is lost.

Rotherhithe Bridge or Ferry

We have previously covered the proposals for a bridge (cyclists/pedestrians only) across the Thames at Rotherhithe. This was an enormously expensive project for little benefit and received many local objections. TfL have now announced they are progressing the design of a ferry crossing instead. See https://tinyurl.com/tx5zutf for more information, but it’s still only for cyclists and pedestrians, and the economics are not yet disclosed.

Hammersmith Bridge

The closure of Hammersmith Bridge is creating lots of difficulties for residents of West London. It has been suggested that a temporary road bridge be put in place while the listed bridge is being repaired, at a possible cost of £5 million, but it seems there is little support for that idea. Instead TfL is proposing a temporary walking and cycling bridge. This would be a seven-metre wide, prefabricated steel structure. See https://tinyurl.com/st8s7m4 for more information and to give your views. But it will hardly solve the traffic congestion problems that are otherwise going to last for some years.

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Book Review – Demotorized – A Witty Look at the Use and Taxation of Motor Cars 

Demotorized Cover

“Demotorized” is a new book by experienced motoring journalist James Ruppert. As he describes it himself, it “is partly a giant whinge on behalf of the average motorist” whereas he believes motor cars are a “force for good that outweighs any downsides”. That is certainly what we believe.

The book is a witty look at the history of the automobile and how politicians have taxed them, often using excuses for doing so that have created unintended consequences. Or they have simply misunderstood the technology and the underlying science so that money has been wasted and negative results obtained – such as the push for diesel usage that has now been reversed.

The author takes a close look at the global warming paranoia that is being used to attack personal vehicle use – he clearly does not believe in it at all. He also takes a look at the revenue raising from the pursuit of speeding offences, but unfortunately fails to mention the false statistics on which it was based and how money is being generated by “speed awareness” courses. Indeed he suggests that the latter is a “local authority revenue raiser” when in fact few local authorities currently run such courses – It’s mainly commercial organisations and it’s them and the police who are the main financial beneficiaries. At least that is the current position although there are moves to enable local authorities to get on this gravy train.

There is a good section on the history and future prospects for electric vehicles. The author makes it plain that their economics have yet to be proven.

It’s quite a long book at over 300 pages and a mine of useful information so at £9.99 for the paperback edition it’s good value. But it’s still an easy and amusing read – indeed sometimes it’s difficult to tell whether the author is being serious or not.

In summary a useful book for anyone who wishes to learn more about the motor industry and how the motorist has suffered from perverse government policies.

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Building on Station Car Parks

One of the items I overlooked when discussing the TfL Business Plan in a previous blog post was the proposal to build on car parks owned by TfL. There is obviously a high demand for more housing in London and TfL control a significant amount of land so it is not unreasonable to look at whether some of it could be used for housing. However building on station car parks would remove a very useful facility and cause great problems for many people who use them as part of a commuting strategy. To quote from TfL’s Business Plan:

“Working with Grainger plc, we have launched Connected Living London, a ground-breaking new partnership. Together, we are delivering one of the UK’s biggest Build to Rent programmes, with 3,000 homes being built across seven sites. Arnos Grove, which will be one of the first sites we submit to the Local Planning Authority, will see us transform a car park into around 150 good-quality rental homes – 40 per cent of which will be affordable. Not only will we provide the homes London desperately needs, but by developing on car parks, like Arnos Grove and Cockfosters, we will be promoting active and sustainable travel in line with the Mayor’s Transport Strategy”.

In respect of the Cockfosters proposals, there is a consultation you can give your views to here: https://www.givemyview.com/cockfosters/ , or for Arnos Grove here: https://www.givemyview.com/arnosgrove/ . The questions are biased in that there is no option to respond “do nothing” but you can still make your views clear.

People affected by these proposals could also object to the Planning Applications once they are made. See Enfield and Barnet council planning systems.

There are also petitions on Change.org against the Cockfosters proposal – see https://www.change.org/p/sadiq-khan-stop-cockfosters-station-car-park-development-to-keep-crucial-facilities-in-our-area and here for Arnos Grove: https://www.change.org/p/sadiq-khan-let-s-stop-tfls-proposed-development-of-the-car-parks-at-arnos-grove-station

Roger Lawson

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Delivery Consolidation in the City and New Traffic Signs Manual

There were a couple of interesting items for readers in a recent edition of Local Transport Today.

Firstly the problem of emissions from delivery vehicles (HGVs and LGVs) in the City of London is being tackled by plans for “consolidation centres”. That would mean fewer individual trips by motorised vehicles with the last mile being covered by cargo bikes or even on foot. The City of London Corporation has identified three possible locations for “last mile logistic hubs” – the London Wall car park, the Barbican Trading Estate and Middlesex Street car park.  I am not even sure what they mean by the Barbican Trading Estate although there are some large car parks in the Barbican Centre. However most of those are accessed via Beech Street which will be a zero emission road soon.

As regards the London Wall car park, I am familiar with that as I use it occasionally but it gets full up already at certain times so removing space for other purposes does not seem a good idea. It is one of the few car parks in the centre of the City and the entrances and exits are not at street level so surely it is far from ideal for heavy cargo bikes.

A new Chapter 6 of the Traffic Signs Manual used by road traffic engineers to help design roads has been issued. Chapter 6 covers junction design and pedestrian signals as well and replaces several “Traffic Advisory Leaflets” issued by the Department for Transport (DfT). It is particularly of interest in respect of the timings of pedestrian crossings and their location. Chapter 6 is only 200 pages – and you thought designing roads was simple.

See https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/traffic-signs-manual for all of the Traffic Signs Manual chapters.

Roger Lawson

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London Councils Making Even More Money From Parking

The RAC Foundation have published some figures on how much local Councils profit from parking. The latest data shows that the profits they make have risen by 7% to £930 million in the last year. The profits in some London boroughs are the highest in the country with Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea, Wandsworth, Hammersmith & Fulham, Camden and Islington all being in the top 7. In fact 12 of the 13 highest profiteers in the country are all in London with only Brighton & Hove being the exception.

Total income received from parking was £1.75 billion with costs incurred were £0.82 billion. Income comes from on-street parking, permit parking schemes, off-street car parks owned or run by Councils and parking enforcement. They are not supposed to make a profit from on-street parking but clearly do in many cases. However they can legally charge what they like for off-street car parks.

Any surplus from on-street parking is supposed to be spent on transport improvements but that is in practice a very broad item and includes expenditure such as supporting concessionary public transport fares, cycle lanes and many other things that have no benefit whatsoever to vehicle users who have paid for the parking. In reality Councils are using parking fees as a slush fund to finance all kinds of projects in some boroughs. Some of the surplus is spent on road maintenance but that has been falling which is why there are more and more potholes on our roads.

It is surely time for national government to intervene to rectify these abuses that are taking place because high parking charges are destroying many High Streets and Town Centres as retailers are already under pressure from the internet.

For more information and to see how your local borough compares the RAC Foundation report is present here: https://tinyurl.com/qm9ypy2

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