The Future of Transport – Government Consultation

E-ScooterThe Government has launched a public consultation on “The Future of Transport”.  This covers the possible future regulation of “micromobility” vehicles such as electric scooters, flexible bus services and “mobility as a service”.

Of particular interest to other road users, and to pedestrians, is the regulation of scooters. Should they be permitted on roads, on pavements or on cycle lanes for example? Should such “vehicles” have a maximum speed limit, be “type approved”, require registration numbers and be licensed, should the users be licensed and required to take a training course, permitted only on lower speed roads, and require riders to use helmets? There are many questions they pose in this area.

It is certainly the case that we need some regulation and urgently as in major cities such as London they are already coming into use despite the fact that they are illegal to use except on private land, i.e. illegal on both roads and pavements. There have already been injury accidents, including one death, reported from the use of scooters on public roads in the UK, and the number of casualties in other countries where they are permitted are already quite high.

It also covers the regulation of self-driving cars, and how trials of such vehicles can be regulated. Mobility as a service is also covered and this relates to the development of new digital platforms to enable innovative transport services combining multiple modes.

As with many Government announcements, it clearly shows a prejudice against cars and private transport in general. It says this in the “Executive Summary”: “Walking, cycling and active travel must remain the best options for short urban journeys”, and “Mass transit must remain fundamental to an efficient transport system”, and “New mobility services must lead the transition to zero emissions”. Not everyone might agree with those statements.

This is an important public consultation for anyone interested in road use, and there is an easy on-line consultation process. There are probably too many questions in it but you can skip a lot of them.

Please respond to the consultation which can be obtained from here:

https://tinyurl.com/s9f7bvp

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Bus and Underground Usage Collapses While Anti-Car Measures are Promoted

According to figures published by Transport for London (TfL), bus usage is down by 85% from the pre-virus epidemic levels and underground usage is down by 95%. That’s hardly surprising as Mayor Sadiq Khan is now advising people not to use public transport unless they are essential workers travelling to work. That’s a big “U-Turn” from his original comment in March that there was no risk of catching coronavirus on the tube. That was a very ill-advised comment at the time when it was already obvious that it was a highly contagious disease.

It is also causing the deaths of many bus drivers who are exposed to the general public although the Mayor is belatedly taking steps to protect them by limiting access, providing screening and PPE. Meanwhile crowding of people on the underground is still happening as the service has been reduced, partly because underground staff are sick or “self-isolating” (or “under house arrest” as Norman Tebbit aptly called it recently).

Note that income from bus and underground fares provides almost 50% of TfL income so the Mayor has a major financial problem to add to the already high deficit in TfL if the Covid-19 epidemic continues for much longer.

It is very clear that using private cars is a much safer way to travel and that public transport should be avoided but the anti-car and cycling lobbies continue to try and make capital out of the epidemic. The Times reports that roads in built-up areas may be converted into car-free zones to create extra space for joggers and cyclists during lockdown and there is a call for lower speed limits to protect the NHS from having to deal with road casualties. That’s despite the fact that most A&E Units have fewer customers than normal probably because many potential users probably consider them high risk places to visit so are avoiding them.

At a time when vehicle reliant key workers such as mobile carers, NHS staff, delivery drivers etc, are working hard to provide care and keep shops and hospitals supplied, the senseless, shameless anti-driver lobby comes up with ideas to obstruct them in favour of people who aren’t working.

Whether we like it or not, the Government have made it clear that they want people to ‘Stay Home’ as much as possible in order to minimise the spread of virus. Driving a car is the lowest risk form of transport in terms of virus transmission. Jogging and cycling entails heavy breathing outdoors, which is obviously a higher risk. However, it is quite possible for all three to coexist with the common sense and courtesy that is currently being displayed by the vast majority. There is no need for any activity to be banned, including essential car travel, but the roads need to be kept clear for those who actually need to use them rather than being closed for spurious reasons.

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Police Powers in the Coronavirus Epidemic and Avoiding Public Transport

The Government is encouraging us all to stay at home during the Coronavirus epidemic, and only travel when essential. This is wise advice indeed and certainly travelling on public transport or attending meetings in person should be avoided. It is a pity that London Mayor Sadiq Khan did not promote those rules when the epidemic first became clear instead of advising people that travel on the underground was safe. He has since changed his tune. But this was undoubtedly one reason why London has become a breeding ground for the virus with infections and deaths from the disease much higher there than in most of the country.

To understand why public transport is so dangerous, this is what Matt Ridley, a scientist and writer, had to say in one of his blog posts: “Most infection seems to occur indoors and worryingly quite a lot may have happened within the medical system especially in Italy in the early weeks. According to one study, on tissue paper the virus survives less than three hours, on wood and cloth two days, on glass and banknotes four days and on stainless steel and plastic a week”. In practice therefore just touching a hand hold on a bus or underground train could pass on the infection.

This writer therefore advises everyone to avoid public transport for the duration unless absolutely essential and some precautions are taken. Those people who are especially vulnerable due to age or existing medical conditions should of course not leave their homes at all but “self-isolate” like the Prime Minister whether you have virus symptoms or not.

We suggest that using a car is the preferred mode of transport as it will enable you to avoid contact with other people. You just need to take care when refuelling it with petrol or diesel, and subsequently paying (use a contactless card if you can). Wear gloves if possible and wash your hands afterwards. You could also travel by cycle or walk of course but there is then more danger or coming into close contact with other people so more care needs to be taken and those modes are not practical for many trips.

The police seem to have taken a very heavy-handed approach in some cases and are stopping people from driving on what they consider “non-essential” journeys. Fixed penalty notices are being issued when unjustified. This is not what the regulations actually say – see: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2020/350/regulation/6/made

You can leave home and therefore travel for many reasons including taking exercise, and you can certainly travel to work, travel to shop for food or other essentials, to go to a bank or travel to support vulnerable family members. As it’s a lot safer to use a car than catch a bus or train, that should be the preferred mode of transport unless you can walk or cycle.

Some people seem to be using the virus epidemic as a justification for stopping all use of private transport but that is certainly not valid. This is what Mark McArthur-Christie had to say recently in a tweet: “Buses are great – they’re a fine way to get around if (a) there is one and (b) you have time, money and flexibility to spare. But making people use a bus when they have a car is like making them use a launderette when they have a washing machine at home”.

That’s an argument worth remembering.

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Mayoral Election Postponed and Transport Price Freeze Unfrozen

Among last weeks epidemic news and financial turmoil, two important items of news for Londoners sneaked out. First the election for Mayor of London has been postponed – possibly for a year, along with other local Government elections due in May. With Sadiq Khan well in the lead in the polls, that might be welcome news for other candidates as it will give them more time to gather supporters.

One of the current Mayor’s vote winning policies at the last election was his promise to freeze public transport fares. That proved popular with many Londoners despite the fact that it was financially rash and has resulted in a big deficit in Transport for London (TfL) finances and limited investment in new transport services. The Mayor has now decided to drop that commitment but he is committing to limit rises in Underground fares to inflation and continuing to freeze bus fares – if he gets re-elected of course.

Is that wise? One thing he appears to have overlooked is that TfL finances depend to a great extent on fare-paying passengers. Bus trips have been falling and the coronavirus impact will undoubtedly reduce the numbers travelling on London buses and the underground substantially as more people work from home and events in London are cancelled. Nobody is going to be travelling on crowded public transport if they can possibly avoid it by walking, cycling or getting taxis instead.

This might have a very severe short-term impact on TfL’s finances as a lot of TfL’s costs are fixed so any hit to revenue results in big financial losses. But TfL is already loaded with debt due to the fares freeze so may no longer be credit-worthy. That will be a real problem for the new Mayor whoever it is.

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Getting Rid of Cars in London

Bus Jam 208-01-17There was a good article recently in the Guardian by Gwyn Topham entitled “How London got rid of private cars – and grew more congested than ever”. It described in graphic terms how despite falling numbers of cars, congestion has got worse. Part of the problem is that the reduction in private cars, which are almost non-existent in central London now, has been offset by the increase in PHVs (Uber etc) and LGVs delivering internet parcels or doing “just-in-time” deliveries.

Cycle lanes and other reductions in road space have also made matters worse while the Congestion Charge has been totally ineffective in reducing congestion (see this page for our analysis of that costly and ineffective system: https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/congestion.htm ).

The impact of more congestion has hit bus users hard and reduced ridership. Slower buses put people off using them and congestion also means an unreliable service. Traffic speed is now down to about 8 mph.

All of these problems have been caused by poor transport policies in London with unintended consequences. Attacking private car use has been turned out to be particularly pointless and just makes matters worse, as Councillors in Lewisham with their “Healthy Neighbourhoods” scheme will no doubt soon learn if they do not reconsider their proposals.

There is a better way, but the Mayor of London and his transport bosses will not listen because they seem more interested in making money from charging road users than fixing the congestion problem.

You can read the Guardian article here: https://tinyurl.com/yxy8g5lq

Roger Lawson

 

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TfL Business Plan and Budget for the Next 5 Years – More of the Same

London Road

Transport for London (TfL) have published their Business Plan to cover the next 5 years and a Budget for the next year. The latter has already been approved by the London Assembly.

I shall pick out a few key points from these long documents which are certainly worth reading if you have the time – see https://tfl.gov.uk/corporate/publications-and-reports/business-plan .  Bear in mind that as always, it’s money that drives the political and policy decisions – in this case the apparent desire of the Mayor to build a bigger empire and control more of our lives. So private transport will be discouraged and he wants more money from central Government and from Londoners to fix his self-inflicted budget problems caused by fare freezes, Crossrail delays and reckless expenditure on cycle infrastructure.

The delays to Crossrail and its rising cost run through the whole document like an albatross around the Mayor’s neck. Crossrail is now unlikely to open until 2021 which means £750 million in lost revenue as against that expected, hitting the TfL budget. In addition the delays and extra work means extra costs of up to £650 million and it’s not clear where that money will be coming from. There are very optimistic forecasts in the Business Plan for income from Crossrail – for example £884 million in 2023/24. Will it really be achieved?

Diesel Buses, one of the major sources of air pollution in the capital, are to be replaced to a large extent by 2,000 zero-emission buses by the end of the 5-year business plan period, but the whole fleet will not be zero-emission until 2037. However they will be at least Euro VI compliant soon. There is also a commitment to install 300 rapid Electric Chargers for other vehicles by the end of 2020.

Note that the London bus network has been reduced partly due to falling passenger numbers and income no doubt but there is also a reduction in central London offset by increases in outer London.

TfL Transport Commissioner Mike Brown reiterates the commitment to Vision Zero to reduce road casualties despite the fact that the policy has had negligible impact to date – see a previous blog post on that subject. He also commits to tripling the amount of “protected” Cycling space which will mean more underused cycle lanes. But he is also committing to make 73 junctions safer which may assist cyclists.

Despite cutting operating costs, one of the few good things reported, there will be deficits of £307m, £493m and £513m in TfL (after “capital renewals”) for this year and the two following ones and barely break-even in 2022/23. As a result the Mayor will have to substantially increase borrowing to cover that and large amounts of capital expenditure for both Crossrail and other network improvements. That includes £2.2 billion this year and next year, followed by £1.2 billion each year in subsequent years. Total borrowing will reach £12.3 billion within 2 years. None of this is being spent on the road network of course other than some maintenance.

So far as the road network is concerned, the maintenance of road surfaces including the repair of pot-holes has been reduced in the last two years which the documents concede has caused a deterioration in road assets. However there is a commitment to “gradually restore the condition of highway assets, with a focus on those that contribute more to walking, cycling and public transport” whatever that means. Does that mean they will fund repairs to bus lanes but not the rest of the road?

On Hammersmith Bridge whose closure is causing major problems in West London, the document only says that £25 million has been allocated to pay for preliminary work but no contract will be awarded to repair the bridge until Spring 2020 and it might take several years to complete the work. It is unclear where the money required will come from. The Rotherhithe Tunnel will be refurbished within the next 5 years – cost of around £140 million, and work done on the A40 Westway. Work on the Silvertown Tunnel should commence in 2020 and complete by 2025.

As regards the ULEZ, the Budget document finally discloses some financial figures. In 2018/19, the ULEZ will contribute most of the £215 million improvement in operating income in the current year, but with implementation costs of £58 million, i.e. a net £157 million which is somewhat more than previously forecast (see   https://tinyurl.com/y4w6pwuk ). As the Budget document only covers the year 2019/20 and no details are provide in the Business Plan the impact of the extension of the ULEZ to the North/South Circular is not apparent but the Mayor clearly intends to push ahead with that (assuming he gets re-elected).

The Business Plan indicates that fares income is expected to rise at around RPI which ignores the fact that Sadiq Khan has already promised to continue to freeze public transport fares if he gets re-elected, at least for 2020. So the Business Plan may be totally unrealistic.

In summary the Business Plan and Budget demonstrate an incompetent Mayor and senior management at TfL who wish to get us all cycling, walking or using public transport while the road network gets worse. This results in more traffic congestion and more air pollution which most Londoners would prefer them to fix. The persistent financial mismanagement by the Mayor will also come home to roost sooner or later.

A good example of the result of his policies is actually shown in a photograph of an east London street in the Business Plan document. A long queue of traffic in one lane with the bus lane unused and few cyclists in the cycle lane! See above.

Roger Lawson

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London Congestion – It’s Only Going to Get Worse

London Population Trend

As anyone who has lived in London for more than a few years probably knows, the population of the metropolis has been rapidly rising. This has resulted in ever worse congestion not just on the roads but on public transport also. The roads are busier, rush hours have extended and London Underground cannot handle the numbers who wish to travel on some lines during peak hours. Even bus ridership has been declining as the service has declined in reliability and speed due to traffic jams.

The Greater London Authority (GLA) has published some projections of future population numbers for the capital and the conclusion can only be that life is going to get worse for Londoners over the next few years.

The current population is about 8.8 million but is forecast to grow to 10.4 million by 2041, i.e. an 18% increase. This increase is driven primarily by the number of births and declining death rates. The relatively high numbers of births in comparison with what one might expect is because London has a relatively youthful population. One can guess this is the case because of the high numbers of migration from overseas which results in a net positive international migration figure while domestic migration to/from the rest of the UK is a net negative, i.e. Londoners are being replaced by immigrants.

But population increase in London does not have to be so. The chart above shows you the trend over the last 100 years and as you can see London has only recently reached the last peak set in 1939. During the 1960s to 1990s the population fell. What changed? In that period there was a policy to reduce overcrowding in London and associated poor housing conditions by encouraging relocation of people and businesses to “new towns”. But when Ken Livingstone took power he adopted policies of encouraging more growth. His successors have continued with those policies and have promoted immigration, e.g. with Sadiq Khan’s “London is Open” policy.

Many Londoners complain about the air pollution in the London conurbation without understanding that the growth in businesses and population have directly contributed to that problem. More people mean more home and office heating, more transport (mainly by HGVs and LGVs) to supply the goods they require, more emissions from cooking, and many other sources. The Mayor thinks he can solve the air pollution issues by attacking private car use and ensuring goods vehicles have lower emissions but he is grossly mistaken in that regard. The problem is simply too many people.

Building work also contributes to more emissions substantially so home and office building does not help. But the demand for new homes does not keep pace with the population growth resulting in many complaints that people have to live in cramped apartments or cannot find anywhere suitable to live at all. Likewise new public transport capacity does not keep pace with the increased demand. There is some more capacity on the Underground but only on some lines and not much while Crossrail which might have helped has been repeatedly delayed.

The economy of London is still buoyant.  But all the disadvantages of overcrowding in London mean that Londoners are poorer in many ways. Those who can move out by using long-distance commuting or relocating permanently thus leaving London to be occupied by young immigrants.

Any Mayor who had any sense would develop a new policy to discourage immigration, encourage birth control and encourage emigration to elsewhere in the UK or the Rest of the World. But I doubt Sadiq Khan will do so because a poorer population actually helps him to get elected.

If Sadiq Khan wanted Londoners to live in a greener, pleasanter city with a better quality of life then he would change direction. But I fear only intervention by central Government will result in any change. In the meantime those who live in London might like to tackle their potential MPs, Greater London Assembly Members and prospective Mayors for what they would do about the problems covered in this article.

Go here for more details of the GLA projections of London’s population: https://data.london.gov.uk/dataset/projections-documentation

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Sadiq Khan’s Election Manifesto – Have Your Say

The Labour Party are inviting everyone to have their say on Sadiq Khan’s Manifesto for re-election as London Mayor in 2020. You can read about his achievements to date and submit answers to their questions via this web page: https://tinyurl.com/y29yu999 . It is of course a very biased document like all consultations that Mr Khan presides over, but anyone can respond – you don’t need to be a Labour Party member.

Perhaps the Mayor is short of ideas to ensure he gets re-elected. His last big vote winner was freezing public transport fares but after three years of holding the tide back of inflation in King Canute fashion he has managed to dig a deep hole in Transport for London’s finances which simply cannot continue. Bus services are being reduced as a result while traffic congestion increases. His policies on Congestion Charging and the ULEZ will impose higher costs on many Londoners with minimal public health benefit. He has also clearly failed to tackle rising violent crime and not solved London’s housing problem – indeed his only proposal for the latter is to introduce rent controls which would make matters worse.

But he does admit to increasing the Council Tax Precept (what you pay to the Mayor from your local council taxes) to the maximum allowed. No thanks Mr Mayor. All his other claimed achievements are quite trivial in relation to the problems Londoners perceive as key issues.

All the way through the document, the Mayor emphasises that he has limited powers over many aspects and clearly wants more. But it would be very dangerous to give him more.

Here are some of the questions and how you may care to respond to them (I have only covered those questions that are relevant to transport):

Environment and Climate Change:

Question: How do we take the next steps to clean up London’s air and oversee a massive shift from polluting cars to walking, cycling and electric vehicles at the same time?

Answer: concentrate on fixing the vehicles over which you have control and which are major contributors to air pollution, i.e. diesel buses. You also need to tackle air pollution on the Underground. Otherwise any measures should be justified on cost/benefit grounds and scare-mongering over an imaginary public health crisis as the justification for higher taxes should be stopped. The expansion of the ULEZ to the North/South Circular should be halted and the introduction of more Cycling schemes that create more traffic congestion (and hence air pollution) should be halted.

Transport:

Question: How else can Sadiq make London’s transport system affordable and accessible to all Londoners?

Answer: Stop wasting money on schemes with very poor cost/benefits (such as the proposed Rotherhithe bridge and most of the Cycle Superhighways the finance for which has to come out of public transport fares. He needs to stop spending money and imposing taxes on road users to make the transport system more affordable for everyone. That includes halting the investment in 20 MPH speed limit schemes and cycle schemes that have poor cost/benefits. He should also cease support of road-pricing and workplace parking levies.

Question: What are the future major schemes that Sadiq could focus on delivering?

Answer: The Silvertown Tunnel is one which will be a major benefit for east London. Repairing the Hammersmith Bridge is another for West Londoners. Improving major east-west and north-south road routes such as the Embankment rather than degrading them with 20 MPH speed limits and cycle lanes should be another key objective.

Question: What more can be done to promote walking and cycling?

Answer: Some youth elixirs for the elderly and inform would help and concealing the dangers or cycling is another. That is of course just a witty response to a proposal that is unnecessary and has major disbenefits.

Question: When asking for more powers and devolution from Government on transport issues, where should Sadiq focus his energies?

Answer: Give the Mayor powers to introduce policies to reduce the population of London so as to reduce pressure on the transport, housing and public health systems. Specifically redistribution of business and people out of London and powers to reduce immigration and encourage birth control.

He should also argue for a commitment to devolve more powers to local boroughs so as to avoid TfL dictating local borough policies and more funds financed by central Government to be given to local boroughs solely to be used on improving the road network in London. In addition the Mayor should be given the power to set sensible minimum parking standards for new developments (not maximum ones) in London boroughs.

Those are just a few ideas to help Mr Khan, or indeed his opponents, to get elected.

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Keep The USA Moving

The USA is traditionally where the motor car is king as public transport has been sparse while roads have been built to cope with demand. But it is changing with some cities introducing Vision Zero to improve road safety and policies called “Complete Streets” and “Road Diets”. Vision Zero is well known in the UK as it has been adopted for example in London but with minimal or zero impact (see https://tinyurl.com/y39v6nsy for a previous article on that subject).

Complete Streets are designed to make it easy to cross the street, walk to shops, and bicycle to work. They encourage more walking, cycling and use of public transport. Road Diets involve reducing the number of traffic lanes to provide wider sidewalks (pavements) or the addition of cycle lanes and bus lanes.

Some cities such as New York are also considering introducing congestion charges to cut traffic and reduce congestion.

In other words, US cities are moving in the same direction as cities in Europe and copying London despite the fact that the policies in London have actually increased traffic congestion rather than reduced it and otherwise damaged the transport network. But opposition to such policies is growing. There are particular concerns about the impact on businesses and on access by emergency service vehicles, but there is general opposition to the increased traffic congestion such policies create. This web site covers the issue well and includes a video showing how fire tenders are blocked: https://tinyurl.com/y67gjzjg and emergency service vehicles delayed. It also has an interesting chart showing how the adoption of Vision Zero in Los Angeles appears to have resulted in an increase in pedestrian fatalities.

But opposition is growing. See this web site for a national view (which also includes an interesting note on the Delphi Technique to manipulate public opinion): https://www.keeptheusmoving.com/

In Los Angeles there is a local group opposing such measures who are holding a conference on October 5th – see https://www.keeplamoving.com/ . It’s some years since this writer personally visited Los Angeles but there was horrific traffic congestion then on some freeways and other roads. Reducing road widths to support cycling just seems nonsensical to support a very small proportion of the population when distances people travel to work or to shop is so high. US cities are designed around the use of motor vehicles and the population are not going to change their ways.

I won’t be attending the conference in person but I have submitted a short video which discourages US residents from following the path taken in Europe. Go here to view the video: https://youtu.be/LxEkiycYQ04

Roger Lawson

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Highway Robbery and Leaving London

Highway Robbery CoverGareth Bacon, Conservative Leader on the Greater London Assembly, has published a most interesting document entitled “Highway Robbery – The Case Against Road Pricing in London”.

He makes the case very well and argues that Londoners should have a wide choice about the modes of transport that they use and that car journeys are quite essential for many trips in outer London. He highlights that Mayor Sadiq Khan may be looking at road pricing simply as another way to fix his TfL budget problems.

But it would undoubtedly lead to much higher costs on vehicle owners – perhaps 70% more than they pay in taxes at present very little of which is spent on the road network. Meanwhile public transport users in London are subsidised by over £1 billion per annum. Mr Bacon suggests the Mayor should rule out road pricing in London while committing to spend more on London’s roads. In particular he supports the Mayor’s claim that some of the VED tax paid by London’s drivers should be given to the Mayor but only on condition that it is hypothecated to spend on road maintenance.

We have opposed Sadiq Khan’s stated wish to grab some part of the VED tax take as it might give him control of it and lead to higher tax rates for no benefit. But if it was strictly controlled by the Government on the suggested basis it may be more arguable. But will central Government and the public accept that less money is thereby available to spend on the national highway network?

Surely it would be better to cut out the excessive bus subsidies and the over-generous concessionary fares (payable to everyone even when they can afford the cost) which would easily pay for improved maintenance of London’s roads?

You can read the “Highway Robbery” report here: https://www.glaconservatives.co.uk/uploads/1/1/7/8/117899427/highway_robbery.pdf

Leaving London

Record numbers of people are leaving London according to a report by the Office of National Statistics (ONS). In 2018 some 340,000 residents left London while 237,000 moved in meaning a net loss of 103,000. The national press attributed this to high house prices and a fear of crime. No doubt they contributed but perhaps the congestion on the roads and on public transport is also making London a less pleasant place to live while car owning and public transport costs are rapidly rising.

Sadiq Khan seems to be making matters worse rather than fixing them. The report mentioned above shows some of the negative aspects of what he has done and what he is planning to do. That is surely contributing to Londoner’s giving up on the capital for a better life elsewhere.

Roger Lawson

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