Tottenham Court Road – Give Your Views

The London Borough of Camden has issued a consultation on the changes they have made to roads in the Tottenham Court Road area (see link below). That included changing Tottenham Court Road to two-way traffic; restricting areas of Tottenham Court Road to buses and cycling only between 8am – 7pm Mondays to Saturdays; adding new segregated cycle lanes on Gower Street / Bloomsbury Street and many other changes.

This has effectively made the area inaccessible to almost all vehicles and made life exceedingly difficult as a result for people who need to visit the area on business. It’s been enormously damaging as Tottenham Court Road was a key part of the London road network.

One might accept that improvements to the roads were necessary but the result is an extreme anti-vehicle outcome which was unnecessary.

Please respond to the consultation and tell Camden what you think.

Camden Consultation: https://camdenswestendproject.commonplace.is/

Slowing London Down with a Fake Consultation

You thought traffic in London was slow enough? Well Transport for London (TfL) have now published their report on the “consultation” into the permanent reduction of the speed limit on the Westway to 30mph, Park Lane (Northbound) to 20mph, and 13km of other routes in Westminster to 20mph. That includes on the Marylebone Road, Vauxhall Bridge Road and Edgware Road between the A40 and St. John’s Wood Road – see map below.

Needless to say, they’re planning on going ahead with it. But did you even know about this consultation? This writer certainly did not and the number of responses from the public was only 224 which surely suggests it was not widely known.

Comment: These are some of the main roads in central London and are vital to maintenance of an efficient road network. It is inconceivable that users of these roads would support such a change. It’s yet another example of TfL attempting to halt all use of motor vehicles and deter people from driving in London by making it inconvenient and frustrating.

It’s also a great example of how TfL does fake consultations with no publicity and done in mid-summer when many people are on holiday.

The Consultation Report is present here: https://haveyoursay.tfl.gov.uk/lowering-speeds-westminster and you can see a map below.

Roger Lawson

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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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London Is Now The Most Congested City

A report by traffic information supplier Inrix says London has become the most congested city in the world. Its drivers are losing an average of 148 hours per years sitting in traffic. Other UK cities with major congestion problems are Cambridge, Bristol, Exeter and Cheltenham.

Inrix’s Peter Lees blames a lot of the problem on cycle lanes which have made congestion worse. That is certainly true in London where the expenditure on cycle lanes has been very counter-productive. Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) have also contributed in a big way to increased traffic congestion in many parts of London.

Comment: The result in London is a direct consequence of the defective Mayor’s Transport Strategy which has encouraged cycling when that remains a minority interest. Public transport has been massively subsidised while the road network has been corrupted by dogmatic policies.

The Mayor needs to learn that you cannot solve traffic congestion by taxing motorists as should be self-evident by now. Clearly a different approach is needed but the Mayor and TfL management put their heads in the sand and ignore the problems they have created.

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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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Eco Mob Blocks London Main Roads

This morning Insulate Britain protestors blocked the Blackwall Tunnel, Hangar Lane, Arnos Grove and Wandsworth Bridge, causing chaos during Monday’s rush hour. It resulted in angry scenes with motorists – see https://www.lbc.co.uk/news/insulate-britain-london-a12-chaos/

This is yet another selfish action by such demonstrators. Transport Minister Grant Shapps said this over the weekend: “Recent weeks have demonstrated that the police need stronger powers to tackle those who illegally block motorways. Conservatives will introduce new laws to lock perpetrators up for 6 months, and face unlimited fines. We will not stand by while motorists are held hostage”.

The sooner such laws are introduced, the better, But clearly they need to cover all roads, not just motorways.  

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Gear Change , But Downwards

Cover Photo from Gear Change

The Department for Transport (DfT) have recently published a document entitled “Gear Change: One Year On”. It’s a celebration of the radical changes implemented by Government policy in the last year, with more active travel. It also contains a forward by the Prime Minister containing such phrases as: “Hundreds of new schemes have created safe space for people to cycle and walk, supported pubs and restaurants that might otherwise have closed, and allowed us to get the exercise we need. For decades we mourned that children no longer played in the street. Now once again, in some places, they do”.

That’s a very distorted view of what has happened during the pandemic. More people have walked and cycled partly because they have been working from home and hence have more time to do so, but also because they have been avoiding public transport.

The PM also says: “I know many people think that cycling and walking schemes simply increase car traffic on other roads. But there is now increasing evidence that they do not. We sometimes think of traffic as like water: if you block a stream in one place, it will find the next easiest way. Of course some journeys by car are essential, but traffic is not a force of nature. It is a product of people’s choices. If you make it easier and safer to walk and cycle, more people choose to walk and cycle instead of driving, and the traffic falls overall”. The latter comments may be true but there is certainly evidence that closing roads which is a typical element of LTNs does increase traffic on other roads.

The Gear Change document is a panegyric to the wonders of walking and cycling, but it totally ignores the needs of major segments of the population such as the elderly or infirm, or those who rely on vehicles to transport goods, tools or multiple passengers. It also contains some very misleading data on such issues as the take-up of cycling. It also suggests there is widespread public support for LTNs when independent surveys suggest the majority are against them. It depends on who you ask, the questions posed and who runs the survey.

Gear Change promotes a negative, downward move to local transport that will be opposed by many. It’s basically a propaganda piece exhorting us to change our way of life rather than the Government tackling the underlying causes of traffic congestion.

A good example of the kind of opposition to LTNs is the formation of a new group in Dulwich called “Age Speaks”. They say “We are a group of older people within One Dulwich who have banded together to amplify our voice.  As individuals we are being ignored by Southwark Council and our views and needs are being drowned out by the lobby groups the Council is listening to.  Together our voices will be louder and so we are uniting to make sure that older people are heard.

We want to make sure that the Council understands the difficulties the experimental road schemes cause us and how the Council could change things to make sure that we are treated equally.  Age is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 and the Council has a duty to protect older people from unfair disadvantage.  This is particularly important now, as the Council will be making a decision on the road schemes in October, and so far has paid very little attention to the needs of older people”. They are particularly critical of an Equality Impact Assessment report from Southwark Council which is a typical example of such recent publications which tend to simply ignore many of the problems faced by the elderly.

Those who write such documents tend to be young and fit and simply have no understanding of how the elderly are impacted by attacks on the use of vehicles.

Gear Change report: https://tinyurl.com/yhc2fxkf

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Good News – Transport Action Network Lose Legal Case

Anti-roads campaign group Transport Action Network have lost a legal challenge to halt the Government’s £27.4bn Road Investment Strategy for the next 5 years. The group argued in a judicial review application that the plans were inconsistent with the Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gases, the net zero target for the UK in 2050 and the Climate Change Act 2008.

Mr Justice Holgate said: “It is well-established that where a decision-maker decides to take a consideration into account it is generally for him to decide how far to go into the matter, or the manner and intensity of any inquiry into it, which judgment may only be challenged on the grounds of irrationality.

Accordingly, the success of this challenge depends upon whether the claimant is able to show that the decision was vitiated by irrationality.”

The judge said the real issue raised by this challenge was whether the Secretary of State failed to take into account implications for the net zero target and carbon budgets leading towards that target. He also said: “I see no reason to question the judgment reached by the DfT that the various measures of carbon emissions from the roads programme were legally insignificant, or de minimis, when related to appropriate comparators for assessing the effect on climate change objectives”.

Let us hope that this is the first of many victories in the courts against those who oppose the use of road vehicles and sensible provision of capacity to meet demand.

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Lower Thames Crossing Consultation

Highways England have launched a new public consultation on the Lower Thames Crossing. A number of changes have been made after a previous consultation. This tunnel under the Thames east of the Dartford Crossing will relieve traffic congestion on the M25 and cope with the large increase in housing and businesses east of London and in Kent/Essex.

See https://ltcconsultation.highwaysengland.co.uk/ for the consultation and how to respond.

Our main response to the consultation was to encourage them to get on and build it! But those living near to the route may have more detailed comments.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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