Travel in London Report – Mayor’s Objectives Not Met

Before Christmas Transport for London (TfL) published its 14th Report on Travel in London. It’s basically a collection of data on transport trends in the capital. At 263 pages I’ll only provide a brief summary of some of the key points here – see link below for the full report.

Pandemic Impact

The Report includes data showing the impact of the pandemic. By November 2021 the demand for public transport overall was down to around 70% from pre-pandemic levels. London Underground was 65% and bus demand was about 75%. But road traffic only reduced to about 95% as people chose to avoid using public transport by using private transport (i.e. cars or PHVs) or walking.

Walking actually increased substantially and cycling did increase but mainly for leisure cycling at weekends. Weekday peak commuter travel is not recovering rapidly as there is more working from home, and this is particularly noticeable in central London.

Mode Share

The mode share proportion since 2000 is shown in the above chart. You can see that despite the encouragement for cycling in recent years and particularly by the LTNs of late, cycling has remained a very small proportion and any increase during the pandemic was mainly for leisure.

To quote from page 11 of the Report: “The overall active, efficient and sustainable mode share for travel in 2020 is estimated at 58.3 per cent, compared to 63.2 per cent in 2019”. That includes walking, cycling and public transport use, although why public transport should be considered “sustainable” is not clear. But clearly the effect of the pandemic has been to frustrate the Mayor’s objective to get us all out of our cars and increase “sustainable travel” modes to 80% by 2041. In fact, the active travel mode objective of 20 minutes per day (walking/cycling) for 70% of the population has instead fallen to 35% in the latest quarter probably due to less by those working from home.

Air Pollution

The Report contains some data on air pollution some of which comes from road and other transport of course. But it shows how air pollution has been substantially reducing in the last few years. One interesting comment in the Report is that “The Mayor’s Transport Strategy set a target for London to be a zero carbon city by 2050. However, the Mayor has recently called for this to be brought forward to 2030, recognising the importance of the climate change emergency we face”. That’s news to me. So a diesel/petrol car bought this year might be banned in eight years time if the Mayor has his way!

London’s Population

The good news is that limited data suggests the population of London has decreased with significant reductions in international inward migration. The pandemic has deterred international travel while Londoners have moved out to homes in the country and there may have been some “excess deaths” from the pandemic.

Low Traffic Neighbourhoods

The Report comments on the Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) on page 123 but the data reported is very selective and biased. They conclude with this statement: “In summary, LTNs have a wide range of different and interconnected impacts but the evidence suggests that these are largely positive and that it is in the longer term where most of the benefits become apparent. Therefore, TfL shall continue to support and, where appropriate, conduct further research for a complete and thorough evaluation of LTN impacts”. It seems they have not yet accepted that the majority of residents do not support LTNs as is clear from recent surveys and public consultations in local boroughs, Lewisham being the latest one which we will comment on later.

Traffic Congestion

A section of the Report covers traffic congestion (pages 143 on). It reports that over the last decade “A slow but generally consistent trend of reducing traffic volumes in central and inner London…”; “Traffic volumes in outer London have, however, grown over this period; and “Generally lower car traffic, higher freight traffic, particularly LGVs, and dramatic changes to the numbers of private hire vehicles”. But this comment shows the impact of the Mayor’s policies: “Continued reductions to the effective capacity of London’s roads, generally reflecting other Mayoral priorities such as reducing road danger, requiring enhanced operational management of the road network”. Yes as we all know, London has become more congested in the last few years due to damaging policies.

There has been an allegation widely reported that traffic on minor roads in London has increased substantially in recent years but the Report contradicts that. It says: “Notably, the volume estimates for London’s major roads remained broadly unchanged, and there was no evidence of an (observed) increasing year-on-year trend in minor road traffic from available independent data over the preceding decade”. It seems the claimed increase might have been an aberration based on misleading statistical data.

How do you measure traffic congestion? One way is by traffic speed but that can be misleading. The best way is to look at “excess delay” which compares actual travel time versus that under “free-flow” conditions. The Report actually shows some data on this which is the first for some time to my knowledge. The chart below shows congestion worsening from 2010 and particularly in the period 2015-2019, but a big improvement thereafter as travel generally was reduced due to the pandemic. But it is still worse than ten years ago!

In conclusion, the Travel in London Report does contain some very interesting data, albeit distorted by the pandemic as travel patterns and volume changed. But it shows how defective has been the Mayor’s Transport Strategy as people have resisted change to modes while road capacity has been reduced.

Travel in London Report 14: https://content.tfl.gov.uk/travel-in-london-report-14.pdf

Roger Lawson

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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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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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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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Electric Buses in Bromley

London’s buses are one of the major contributors to air pollution in the capital, mainly because most of them are still diesel powered. There are a number of hybrid or electric buses being purchased particularly for central London routes where battery electric buses are viable.

Such buses have limited range however and can only be charged in depots. But there was a presentation by TfL to a Bromley Council Committee of the possible acquisition of electric buses that use an overhead pantograph to do “opportunity” charging whenever a bus is stopped along a route. This could be a viable option for the 358 route from Orpington to Crystal Palace.

A similar system is already in use in Harrogate and has clearly been a success. The buses only take 6 minutes to fully charge from an overhead mast.

Comment: this seems an eminently good idea. Let us hope it is pursued with adequate funding.  

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London Transport Commissioner and Mayor’s Special Pleading

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

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

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

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

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

Roger Lawson

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

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

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A Better Deal for Bus Users, Or Is It?

Transport Minister Grant Shapps has announced “A better deal for bus users”. He claims “fill a double-decker with motorists and it’s possible to remove 75 cars from the road”. That is clearly not true on most roads because it does not take into account the density of such traffic. Very few roads see nose to tail bus traffic that would maximise the volume of people carried. Most bus lanes actually carry less people than they would if they were left to carry all traffic because the frequency of buses is low.

Bus traffic has been falling across the UK for some years – for example passenger numbers were down by over 6% in 2018/19. See Reference 1 below. The only part of the country where bus journeys have been rising (until the recent decline caused by the Covid epidemic) is London which accounts for over 50% of all bus journeys. London buses are massively subsidised and congestion on other public transport services such as the underground and on the roads has encouraged usage. The use of concessionary fares such as the Freedom Pass in London has also promoted use at the expense of rising local taxes to pay for them.

Why do people in the rest of the country choose to own and drive cars when a bus would be cheaper? Because buses are not door-to-door services and you have to fit in with their schedules rather than pick your own travel times. Also anyone who uses buses will have experienced the problem of standing in the cold and rain for the next bus only to find it never turns up because it’s been cancelled.

How does Grant Shapps aim to make buses more attractive? By developing a National Bus Strategy and giving hand-outs to bus operators (or “grant funding” as it is euphemistically called).

He also intends to ensure that buses are given priority in new road schemes (i.e. more bus lanes). The Government will be providing taxpayers money to fund such schemes.  

The Government will also provide more funding to assist the purchase of all-electric or hybrid buses so as to improve air quality. This is a positive move as diesel buses are still a major contributor to air pollution, particularly in London and other major cities. While cars have got much cleaner in recent years, buses have not with too many old diesels still in use.

A summary of what is proposed is as follows:

  • National Bus Strategy focussed on passenger priorities.
  • review of £250 million bus service operators grant to ensure it supports the environment and improved passenger journeys.
  • over £20 million investment in bus priority measures in the West Midlands.
  • all new road investments receiving government funding to explicitly address bus priority measures to improve bus journey times and reliability.
  • refreshing the government’s guidance to local authorities to provide up to date advice on prioritising those vehicles which can carry the most people.
  • investing up to £50 million to deliver Britain’s first all-electric bus town or city.
  • improving information for bus passengers through new digital services and at bus stops.
  • challenging industry to deliver a campaign to attract people to buses
  • incentivising multi-operator ticketing with lower fares.
  • trialling new ‘superbus’ network approach to deliver low fare, high frequency services and funding 4-year pilot of a lower fare network in Cornwall.
  • ambition for all buses to accept contactless payment for passenger convenience.
  • £30 million extra bus funding to be paid direct to local authorities to enable them to improve current bus services or restore lost services.
  • £20 million to support demand responsive services in rural and suburban areas.

But it’s worth pointing out that the level of investment and subsidies is still quite trivial in comparison with that spent on rail services (for example £106 billion on building HS2 alone).

Grant Shapps announcement looks like a canard to win political support in some areas rather than something that will have a real impact. Bus users will continue to be the poor relations of other public transport users, and this writer does not see it encouraging people to get out of their cars and onto buses.

Spending money on bus priority measures rather than improving the road network for all vehicle users is simply a mistake. In summary this looks like another misconceived policy from Grant Shapps’ Department rather like the recent encouragement of LTNs.

Roger Lawson

Reference 1. Bus journey statistics: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/bus-statistics

Reference 1. Shapps’ Announcement: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/a-better-deal-for-bus-users

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Tax Rises from the Mayor of London

I just received a letter from Shaun Bailey. No this is not a personal Xmas card from the Conservative Party candidate for Mayor because I think everyone in the street received a copy. It’s a note about the current Mayor’s proposals to raise the Council Tax Precept that all Londoners pay to fund his operations. This is some of what the note says:

IF YOU DO NOT TAKE ACTION, YOUR MAYORAL COUNCIL TAX WILL RISE BY 21.2%

The Mayor of London levies a tax called the Mayoral Precept. Every household in London pays this tax as part of their council tax bill.

This tax is bundled together with your local council tax. And the Mayor’s portion is set to rise by 21.2%.

To stop this tax rise, you must take action. Please visit www.stopkhanstaxhike.com

Sadiq Khan has already raised your mayoral council tax by 20.3% since 2016. But now he’s planning to raise it even further — in order to pay for his waste at TfL.

Over the last four years, he accumulated £9.56 billion in wasteful spending at Transport for London.

£159 million on free travel for friends of TfL staff. £828 million on pension overpayments. £5.25 billion on Crossrail delays.

Now TfL is on its second bailout. And in the second bailout’s settlement letter, Sadiq Khan revealed that he’s planning to pass the cost on to Londoners with a rise in council tax.

<END>

That’s not the only way the Mayor is planning to raise taxes. He is proposing to raise as much as £500 million every year by charging anyone who drives into Greater London from outside the metropolis. He has already asked Transport for London (TfL) to look into such a plan which might involve a daily fee of £3.50 – but that could soon be raised once the tax is in place and cameras installed to pick it up.

Mr Khan argues that public transport users subsidise road maintenance in the capital as some of that expenditure comes from public transport fares. But bus users should certainly contribute to road maintenance surely?

In addition he is ignoring the fact that technically most of London’s roads are maintained by local boroughs. In fact he is simplifying the issues of where the money comes from because much of it comes from central Government.

The impact on outer London boroughs, and those who live in the wider South-East, of such a tax could be devastating. There are three groups of people who would be badly affected: 1) Those who drive into London for employment (not many do so to central London, but those who work in the outer London boroughs often do so); 2) those who drive into outer London Tube or Rail stations to park as part of their commute (“rail heading” as it is called); and 3) those who drive into outer London “town” centres such as Orpington and Bromley for shopping. Many service providers to businesses in London also visit from outside such as plumbers, accountants, etc.

Perhaps it is worth pointing out that none of these people will get a vote to decide who is Mayor of London. In effect it is taxation without representation, a good enough cause to start a revolution.

It really is time that central Government takes over the government of London and the management of its finances as Sadiq Khan has made a complete hash of it. Allowing him to tax those who live outside London but just want to visit it will cause a mass exodus of businesses and people from London. It will also be the final nail in the coffin of many High Street retail businesses in London.

The Mayor of London has already introduced the LEZ, ULEZ and central Congestion Charge (a.k.a. tax) which have been primarily driven by the Mayor’s desire to build an empire based on raising taxes from Londoners rather than reducing congestion or air pollution. The latest proposals are yet another feeble excuse for money grabbing.

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Good News for Londoners, and The Truth About TfL Budgets

As readers probably know, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has run out of money with the result that Transport for London has had to be bailed out by the Government. The Mayor subsequently decided to raise the Congestion Tax by 30% and restrict usage of the Freedom Pass. That’s bad news but one consequence is that the funds provided by TfL to London boroughs for such projects as “Healthy Neighbourhoods” or “Mini-Hollands” will be curtailed.

An article in Local Transport Today (LTT) reports that in a letter to Transport Commissioner, Mike Brown, borough representatives have complained about what this will mean in terms of their operations and their ability to deliver transport projects.

Local boroughs are under great financial pressure from the Covid-19 epidemic because it has resulted in a loss of much of their parking income and PCNs. Now they may lose one of the major sources of funds for transport projects. To quote from the LTT article: “Frost and Jones say there is a risk that boroughs may “no longer be able to assist TfL in delivering the Mayor’s Transport Strategy (MTS) in any meaningful way.  This would be particularly damaging because, as the MTS acknowledges, the boroughs are a key delivery partner as the authorities, which manage the vast majority of London’s highway network. They say a “severe reduction” in borough capacity will also “hamper the opportunity for officers to work with TfL to explore how some of the positive behaviour changes observed on the network in recent weeks (improved air quality, more active travel, reduced private vehicle trips etc) can be locked-in and a ‘new normal’ forged.  This could therefore represent an historic missed opportunity in what is likely to be a very small window of time where people may be open to doing things radically differently”.

We suggest that scrapping projects that involve road closures, reducing road capacity and the expenditure on more cycle lanes which are little used would be a very good idea indeed. We have been campaigning against the MTS since it was launched as it is a misconceived attempt to change travel behaviour, force people to travel as the Mayor and TfL want rather than by their choice, and has never been justified by any cost/benefit analysis.

One example of the new financial limitations was indicated in a note issued by a Lewisham councillor. It said: “Healthy Neighbourhoods – while the lockdown has highlighted how pleasant life can be without traffic, TfL’s parlous finances mean it has halted funding for HNP. The Council is looking at whether and how the plans for Lee Green and central Lewisham can be integrated into some temporary measures we have funding for as part of Covid-19 response that would encourage social distancing, walking and cycling. We expect to be able publish these within the next few weeks”.

It seems neither the Council nor central Government is giving up on wanting us all to walk and cycle everywhere to relieve the pressure on public transport and avoid the close contact and hence infection risk on buses and the underground. But the Mayor’s policy of raising the Congestion Tax and taxes such as the ULEZ will pressure people to stop using cars and move to public transport. It’s simply irrational.

A good letter was published in the Times newspaper on this subject from John Hines who lives in Loughton, Essex. This is part of what it said: “This is bound to push more travellers back on to trains, the Tube and buses, where social distancing is next to impossible. One would hope he has calculated the effect this will have on the R number. He should be held to account, particularly as many of us who travel into London do not live in London and have no say in who is elected mayor”.

The Government has made it plain that it was solely the Mayor’s decision to raise the Congestion Tax and that he should not blame them. They also said this in a note issued on the bail-out: “The settlement for TfL was needed for two reasons. Most important is the significant fall in revenue caused by COVID-19. However, an important secondary factor was the pre-existing poor condition of TfL’s financial position as a result of decisions made over the last 4 years. Combined with significant cost increases and delays to Crossrail, this left TfL in serious financial difficulty even before the public health emergency.

The Mayor has claimed a great success in achieving a reduced operating loss in TfL. But this ignores all the wasted capital expenditure on projects such as Cycle Superhighways and the interest on debt that has risen to record levels. A proper analysis of the financial position of TfL, issued before the epidemic hit, is here: https://freedomfordrivers.blog/2020/01/17/tfl-business-plan-and-budget-for-the-next-5-years-more-of-the-same/

Is it not time for the Government to step in and take full control of TfL? It is wrong for the Mayor to pursue reckless policies such as his Transport Strategy when there is no financial justification and no democratic mandate for it.

But the Government is actually recklessly encouraging local Councils to “embed new social norms” for travel by restricting vehicle use and encouraging walking and cycling. They want to change the way you wish to travel and to live without consultation and with no justification. That’s not democracy.

Roger Lawson

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Sadiq Khan and TfL Bailed Out

Blackfriars Bridge at Lunch TimeAfter threatening the Government that TfL would have to make deep cuts to public transport in London unless they came up with some money by the close of yesterday, they did agree a bail-out. But with some conditions attached.

The Government has agreed to provide TfL with £1.5 billion in grants and loans to enable TfL to continue operating for at least a few months. With most of TfL’s income coming from bus and underground fares, the collapse in usage as people avoid public transport in the virus pandemic has resulted in massive losses at TfL which are still continuing. In addition the Mayor’s previous decisions to suspend increases in public transport fares, which he made to ensure election, have been enormously damaging to TfL finances and meant they were already budgeting massive deficits even before the epidemic hit.

The suspension of the Congestion Charge and ULEZ has also not helped, plus the fact that you can avoid paying bus fares by entering through the central door as is now required. Even TfL’s advertising revenue has fallen as advertisers’ budgets have fallen and they won’t pay when far few people are using public transport. With social distancing required, even the capacity of buses and the underground will be severely restricted for some time, even if people can be persuaded to use it.

The details of the agreed deal have not yet been disclosed, but the BBC reported that it includes a commitment to raise public transport fares by inflation plus 1%, two seats on the TfL board and a complete review of its finances. TfL has also committed to run a full service when previously they were cutting to 75%.

Mr Khan as usual blamed the Government rather than his own financial incompetence. This is what the BBC reported as being said by someone in the Mayor’s office: “They have forced ordinary Londoners to pay a very heavy price for doing the right thing on Covid-19 by hiking TfL fares, temporarily suspending the Freedom Pass at busy times and loading TfL with debt that Londoners will pay for in the long run”.

Grant Shapps, Transport Secretary, said it was wrong for the rest of the country to be bailing out Londoners but in fact Londoners who never use public transport will be paying a lot of the bill anyway via the Mayoral Council Tax Precept and in other ways.

What should the Mayor have done instead of running up a large deficit, and what should he do now?

Clearly many TfL projects have been very expensive. Building cycle superhighways has not come cheap and schemes such as Crossrail have very marginal cost/benefit ratios. The Mayor’s office and TfL management costs have also grown as the Mayor built an empire at taxpayer’s expense. It seems likely that a number of projects such as to expand the underground network will now have to be cancelled. Subsidies to bus operations which have been running at about £1 billion per annum could never be justified except by the desire of the Mayor to win popularity and elections.

The Mayor and TfL have actually cut their bus income by introducing road schemes that slowed traffic including buses, thus cutting bus ridership. You cannot solve these problems by simply encouraging cycling. The average distance travelled by a London commuter is 13 miles per day with many travelling much longer distances. That makes it impractical for many people to cycle even if they had an inclination to do so. The danger of cycling puts many people off using it for long journeys. Department for Transport (DfT) figures show that there are 1,139 serious injuries and 29 deaths for every million miles cycled, while for car drivers the figures are only 27 and 2 respectively.

The Mayor and central Government should face up to realities and work on the following:

  1. Free up the road network to enable more commuting via cars/taxis and improve bus services. Stop reducing road space.
  2. Provide more parking facilities at low cost.
  3. Encourage more tele-commuting by investing in broadband services and support.
  4. Encourage businesses to relocate out of congested central London into the London suburbs and elsewhere.
  5. Retail facilities and hotels/restaurants should be relocated similarly.
  6. We should move away from the concentration of businesses and facilities in central London to have a wider distribution so we are not reliant on public transport so much.
  7. Bus and underground services should pay for themselves. Handouts for political reasons (such as the Freedom Pass) should be severely restricted to those who really do need travel support, i.e. those who cannot afford to pay.
  8. The ULEZ and Congestion Charge should be scrapped as they don’t really provide a sensible return on the investment and operating costs. They are simply a financial burden on Londoners with very little benefit.

All it needs is strong and wise leadership from the Mayor of London to get Londoners through the current crisis, but will we get it? It seems unlikely from the current Mayor.

All that is likely to happen is that the TfL deficit will continue to grow after this short-term bail-out unless someone really gets to grips with the underlying financial problems.

P.S. Government announcement here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-grants-transport-for-london-funding-package?   They apparently still think the problems can be solved by encouraging cycling.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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