How To Vote in the May Council Elections

The elections for Councillors in London are on May the 5th and I hope you will vote. There is typically a low turnout in local elections so those elected can be unrepresentative of the views of the electorate.

Another problem is that people often vote on national party lines when it is local councillors who make the decisions that affect you directly in your local borough. They also have a big influence on the level of Council Tax that you pay and there is a big variation between different boroughs in London depending on how well the local council manages their finances and the decisions taken by Councillors. It is therefore important that you select the best people to be Councillors.

Another issue to consider is whether Councillors will represent your views and actually respond when you raise an issue with them. A good example of what can go wrong is when Councillors stand for election because they want to save the world from global warming or wish to attack the national Government over its handling of the economy and the price of energy. Councillors have no influence over those matters.

The worst Councillors are those who ignore the views of the public and think they know best. One of the contentious issues in many London boroughs is that over Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs). In several London boroughs where there has been strong opposition to LTNs, it is very clear from survey responses and consultations that most people oppose the LTNs. But Labour Councillors have frequently refused to listen.

Legal challenges to LTNs have been shown to be exceedingly difficult so the only way to get some changes is to vote out the Councillors who supported them!

Who to vote for instead? Only the Conservative Party have made a clear commitment to remove the LTNs in boroughs such as Lewisham and Lambeth. The Liberal Democrats stance is more nuanced and varies from borough to borough.

Labour might win the Council seats simply because the opposition votes are split between the other parties and the few independent candidates. So I would suggest some tactical voting is required, i.e. vote for the candidates that are most likely to gain election and who have policies that you generally agree with.

But try to speak to your local ward councillors (and to the Mayoral candidates in those boroughs who have a directly elected Mayor). Or of course look at their manifestos which you can usually find easily on the web. Particularly look at how interested they are in keeping the road network moving as opposed to spouting dogma about climate emergencies.

But do make sure you vote!

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

You can “follow” this blog by entering your email address in the box below.  You will then receive an email alerting you to new posts as they are added.

Sadiq Khan Wants Your Views

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, wants your views on the future of London. He has issued a survey which is available on the Talk London platform which asks a number of questions and also allows you to post some general comments.

The survey starts out by asking you to pick your top three choices from the following changes you would like to see in the next ten years:

Safer streets for walking and cycling; Cleaner streets; “Improved parks and green spaces; More attractive outdoor public spaces; More trees and greenery outside of parks; More workplaces; Better public transport; More housing; More attractive high streets and town centres; More physically accessible public spaces; Don’t know”.

This list does not include my top choices at all which would be: “1) Better private transport (i.e. more road space and less congestion, with fewer closed roads, bus lanes and cycle lanes); 2) Fewer people and less encouragement to move into London to reduce the stress on housing provision and transport provision; and 3) Lower taxes such as the ULEZ, Congestion Charge and Mayor’s Council Tax Precept.

I might vote for more trees and greenery but more housing we do not want in an already congested city.

In other words, it’s a typical biased survey from the Mayor that asks both the wrong questions and asks leading questions.

Some of the later survey questions are more innocuous but miss the opportunity to really find out what Londoners want. It then takes you to a section where you can add general comments on a few issues.

This is a good opportunity to give your real feelings about what how you think London should be improved (and you could of course mention the removal of Sadiq Khan as a starter). So please do respond to this survey.

You’ll need to register for the Talk London platform first but that’s easy. Go here to start: https://www.london.gov.uk/talk-london/planning-londons-future?

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

You can “follow” this blog by entering your email address in the box below.  You will then receive an email alerting you to new posts as they are added.

Petition re Road Safety in Chislehurst

In the London Borough of Bromley a new political party called “Chislehurst Matters” has been formed to fight the council elections in May. A few local activists seem dissatisfied with the efforts of their current Conservative councillors. Specifically they have concerns about actions on road safety and particularly the lack of a pedestrian phase at the Chislehurst War Memorial junction.

Tonight (28/2/2022) the council is considering a petition signed by more than 4,000 people and submitted by a group called “Safe Crossings for Chislehurst”. Who are they? Unlike the leaders of Chislehurst Matters they seem to prefer to remain anonymous although Chris Wells was promoting a previous petition on the same subject.

You can read the latest petition here: https://cds.bromley.gov.uk/documents/s50096598/Petitions.pdf and the council’s response which I consider eminently reasonable.  Councillor Huntington-Thresher has previously said this on this issue: ““Road Safety remains an ever present high priority, with this particular junction being carefully considered for a controlled crossing point over the years. The reality is that the installation of a pedestrian phase without a redesign of the junction would undoubtedly increase congestion, not just at the junction itself but also in the surrounding local roads, actually and ironically, causing an even bigger road safety issue”.

My recent comments to Chislehurst Matters were:

To Alison Stammers, et al

I welcome the formation of Chislehurst Matters to fight the forthcoming council elections as it’s always good to have more choices in whom one can vote for. But I have some concerns about some of the content of the platform you are adopting.

For example you highlight road safety and particularly the controversial issue of the War Memorial junction crossing.

You don’t seem to be aware that Bromley has an exemplary record on improving road safety and in general has been following rational policies since the Conservatives took over control of the Council many years ago. I recall what it was like before then and it was certainly greatly improved partly by not wasting money on political dogma but actually looking at the available evidence. I have been involved in road safety issues in many London boroughs, particularly Croydon and Lewisham for example, where the result of their policies has been a worse road safety record than Bromley.

I recently wrote this blog article on this subject which gives more information: https://freedomfordrivers.blog/2021/12/13/bromley-road-safety-record-beats-most-others/  

As regards the War Memorial junction, my views on this issue were spelled out in another blog post in 2019 here: https://freedomfordrivers.blog/2019/10/08/is-a-pelican-crossing-justified-at-the-war-memorial-junction-in-chislehurst/ . My views have not changed since, and there is no simple solution.

This is a complex issue but I don’t think Chislehurst councillors or Council staff have been thwarting safety improvements. If anyone is to blame it is the attitude of the Common Trustees who have blocked any changes to improve that junction and the Chislehurst Society has not been helpful either. And there is also the issue of where the required funding for any scheme would come from which is subject to the whims of TfL.

That also applies to the accidents that regularly take place at the white spot roundabout in the centre of Chislehurst Commons (on Centre Common Road) where a restructuring of the roads over the Common is the sole way of fixing the problem. But regrettably there is an attitude of opposition to any changes in the minds of many Chislehurst residents.

It might help to have more active councillors on other topics but when it comes to road safety issues I fear more anger and less science is not the solution.

Please pass my comments on to your colleagues.

Roger Lawson

Summary: It is most disappointing that this small group of activists are persisting with stirring up public concerns about this issue and putting forward simplistic solutions that might make overall road safety worse. They appear to know little about road safety and how best to examine and tackle the issues. In effect they are a bunch of amateurs with a bee in their bonnet about a single issue without looking at the wider environment.

I recommend that they be ignored as I find the Council’s response both rational and reasonable.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

You can “follow” this blog by entering your email address in the box below.  You will then receive an email alerting you to new posts as they are added.

Year End News Wrap Up

This article covers the news items that have appeared in the last couple of weeks that will be of interest to drivers:

Cycle Licensing. The Government has rejected a petition to introduce identification for cycle and e-scooter riders – in effect a licensing system. This was signed by over 10,000 people amid growing concerns about the behaviour or cyclists, particularly in major cities such as London, and the illegal use of e-scooters. The Government thinks it would be too expensive and licensing would deter cycling. See https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/585474?reveal_response=yes#response-threshold

Comment: This is an example of where more signatures might have been obtained, and a more positive response from the Government, if the petition had been more carefully worded. Other countries have introduced registration systems for cyclists in the past but often abandoned them subsequently because of the high costs of administration. But an on-line registration system might be very low cost. There should be no qualification or ability test system, but the ability to identify cyclists after involvement in an accident is important.

Bus Lanes in London.  Transport for London (TfL) have announced that the conversion of bus lanes to operate 24 hours per day has been made permanent. They say that this change that was introduced on some routes recently has improved bus journey times. For the announcement, see: https://tfl-newsroom.prgloo.com/news/tfl-press-release-24-hour-bus-lanes-trial-set-to-become-permanent-as-bus-journey-times-improve

Comment: Of course the recent reduction in bus journey times might have been down to overall traffic reduction as more people worked from home and avoided shopping during the epidemic. Bus lanes are discriminatory in that they favour one transport mode over another for no good reason and do not necessarily maximise the use of road space or the number of people carried. The photograph from the TfL Press Release above shows how underutilised are many bus lanes.

Driver Distraction. There is growing concern about the number of accidents caused by driver distraction. This is not just people using their mobile phones to call or send/receive text messages but using other in-car devices such as satnav systems. An extreme example is the ability of passengers to use touch-screen displays in Tesla vehicles for “gameplay” which is now being investigated by US safety body NHTSA – see https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-59760366

Comment: As in-car electronic devices have proliferated and more control options have been provided, it’s become more complex over recent years and inexperienced drivers are the most easily distracted. This certainly requires some investigation because “failed to notice” is a big cause of accidents according to police reports. It may be worth considering whether satnav and infotainment systems should be controllable only when a vehicle is stationary.

ABD Ejected. The Alliance of British Drivers (ABD) has been thrown out of PACTS (the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety) apparently due to the issue of an injudicious tweet. The ABD claims this is down to pressure from “anonymous extreme cycling lobby trolls” but that is a typical unwise comment from ABD Directors and was one reason why I tried to get some changes made in the ABD and am no longer connected with them. PACTS may be an ineffective organisation in promoting transport safety with poor leadership but association with the extremists at the ABD is becoming something no responsible organisation wishes to be linked to.

Car Insurance Costs. One positive change in the New Year for car drivers is that insurers will no longer be able to charge a different rate for new customers to old ones. So renewals should not automatically rise as they have done in the past.

Comment: This should ensure that we do not have to waste time looking at alternative quotes to avoid being stiffed by insurers reliance on our apathy. However despite Willis Towers Watson claiming that insurance rates are at a six year low, my quote to renew insurance was increased by 7% this week. That’s despite my 22 years of no claims bonus and nothing of significance otherwise in recent years. I will be shopping around for an alternative quote. I expected my insurance to fall as I have been driving less in the last two years due to the pandemic and that is generally true of the wider population so accidents have fallen.

Postscript: I got an alternative insurance quotation and managed to cut the cost by £99 from the proposed renewal cost so switched to Saga who I have used in the past. A most efficient on-line quotation system. The moral is that it still pays to shop around.

Croydon Streetspace Schemes and Governance. The London Borough of Croydon is pushing ahead with its Streetspace schemes despite very strong local opposition – see https://news.croydon.gov.uk/next-phase-of-walking-and-cycling-schemes-approved/ . But Croydon residents have also voted to move to a directly elected Mayor which shows the dissatisfaction with the way the borough has been run recently.

Comment: I am not sure this will make a big difference. In Lewisham who have a directly elected Mayor we still see extreme and unwise policies being promoted by the Mayor.

Conclusion. What does the new year hold for private motorists? Probably more prejudice as extreme cyclists continue to dominate policy and the Government’s net zero policies prejudice all private transport. Irrationality continues to be rampant with no proper cost/benefit analysis of new policies or projects.

There is unfortunately a decline in moderation in all politics so we see rushed decisions being taken about responses to the pandemic including using it as an excuse to close roads. We all need to return to sanity and not let the extremists dominate debate.

The Freedom for Drivers Foundation is trying to promote rational and moderate policies so please support us in doing so.

Roger Lawson

You can “follow” this blog by entering your email address in the box below.  You will then receive an email alerting you to new posts as they are added.

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

You can “follow” this blog by entering your email address in the box below.  You will then receive an email alerting you to new posts as they are added.

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.

You can “follow” this blog by entering your email address in the box below.  You will then receive an email alerting you to new posts as they are added.

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

You can “follow” this blog by entering your email address in the box below.  You will then receive an email alerting you to new posts as they are added.

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/

You can “follow” this blog by entering your email address in the box below.  You will then receive an email alerting you to new posts as they are added.

Insulate Britain Protestors Jailed

Some of the Insulate Britain protestors who have been blocking motorways and main roads across the UK have been jailed for breaching court injunctions. That includes 9 activists who were jailed for between 3 months and 6 months after they made it clear that they might repeat their actions.

The judge said that although there is a right to make peaceful protests. “Ordinary members of the public have rights too, including the right to use the highways”.

The defendants have also been ordered to pay National Highways legal costs which were originally estimated to be £91,000 but were reduced by the court to £45,000, i.e. £5,000 per defendant. How some of them will pay those charges is not clear.

These protests are costing the police many millions of pounds for which there is no justification at all, while road users have suffered similar costs in delays. It seems likely legal actions will be pursued over other similar protests. Let us hope these penalties will persuade Insulate Britain to think again over their campaign.

Comment: Peaceful protest to bring the concerns of activists to the general public is one thing. But when they deliberately obstruct other people going about their legitimate business it is another thing altogether and obstructing roads is clearly an offence. Such behaviour should not be tolerated and penalties should be made more severe if these protests continue.

Roger Lawson

You can “follow” this blog by entering your email address in the box below.  You will then receive an email alerting you to new posts as they are added.

Air Pollution in Outer London

On the 20th October, my local M.P. Bob Neill issued this tweet: “In the House of Commons pressing ministers on air quality targets in the Environment Bill again this afternoon. We need to make real progress on particulate pollution now, not just in city centres but in suburban areas like Bromley & Chislehurst too”. You can see his speech and the minister’s response here: https://twitter.com/neill_bob/status/1450832879798439941 .

He expressed concern about particulate pollution specifically in “hot spots” and asked for a hot spot policy. My response was “I’m not convinced that particulates are a problem in Bromley, at hotspots or anywhere else. Seems you have been listening to the eco-fanatics” and “Bromley meets all the national standards for particulates. See the councils air quality action plan….”. It generated a number of comments from other contributors including a claim that only one location is monitored in Bromley (only true for particulates as there are 10 locations for NO2 monitors which provide good measures of air pollution).

You can read the latest Bromley Air Quality Annual Status Report published in July here: https://www.bromley.gov.uk/download/downloads/id/6833/air_quality_annual_status_report_2020.pdf . The report makes it clear that for both particulates and NO2 the pollution is within national standards. It is also clear that pollution levels have been falling substantially in recent years.

Further responses were received from members of an organisation called Fresh Air Bromley (see https://freshairbromley.org.uk/ ) which apparently is a spin-off from the LibDem Party in Bromley. They have installed a number of particulate monitors (both PM2.5 and PM10) in Bromley and published the data on their web site. The reported figures are all very low apart from at Harwood Avenue (the Council’s own monitoring location) but even there the numbers are within national standards.

This data does not show there is a significant particulate problem in Bromley which is no doubt why they say this on their web site: “We are looking for people to host an air pollution monitor! We are especially looking for hosts who live near possible air pollution hot spots (traffic junctions, schools, etc.)”.

This work is a useful contribution to the air quality issue. But does it demonstrate a major “hot spot” problem? I do not believe it does. I am not saying that there are not locations in Bromley where air pollution is a concern – mainly where there is heavy traffic such as on Widmore/Tweedy Road (photo above). Exposure to high pollution levels may be limited though as the duration of exposure of vehicle users or pedestrians is limited and such roads are not generally residential streets (with a few exceptions).

Car exhausts are being cleaned up by legislation although that may still leave a problem with brake and tire wear. But the big culprits are HGVs and buses and the emissions from vehicles at congestion hot spots. Remove the congestion and air pollution will improve.

Fresh Air Bromley have not demonstrated that existing pollution levels are a major health hazard. As regards particulates, a large proportion of particulates blow in from outside Bromley, or even outside London. Some of it comes from natural sources such as dust storms and agriculture. You also have to bear in mind that particulates are generated in the home from such activities as cooking and from open fires – particularly the modern fashion for wood burning stoves. Historically people have lived with high levels of particulate pollution for thousands of years.

I covered air pollution in another outer London borough (Lewisham) in a previous blog post – see https://freedomfordrivers.blog/2021/09/11/air-quality-in-lewisham/ . It references the Government’s COMEAP reports on the medical effects of air pollution and an FFDF publication on “Air Quality and Vehicles”.

In conclusion, is air pollution a significant problem in outer London boroughs such as Bromley? The answer is surely NO.

Roger Lawson

You can “follow” this blog by entering your email address in the box below.  You will then receive an email alerting you to new posts as they are added.