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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Spend, Spend, Spend – Andy Byford’s Solution to TfL’s Financial Problems

An article in the Financial Times this week (17/9/2021) spelled out how the London Transport Commissioner is looking to solve the financial problems of Transport for London (TfL). Andy Byford who heads TfL called on the Government to provide £17 Billion of funding over the next decade.

TfL has certainly been badly affected by the pandemic with a big reduction in income as people have avoided travelling on the Underground and on buses. They have already had several temporary bail-outs to keep operations running although the Government imposed a number of conditions on their financial support. Usage of buses and the tube is increasing but it may be a long time, if never, before it returns to the same levels as seen before the pandemic as working from home (WFH) or hybrid office use has become adopted.

Mr Byford hopes to achieve financial stability by the financial quarter ending in March 2022. But that is a hope rather than a certainty. That will not include funding for replacing diesel buses by electric ones, the purchase of trains for underground lines nor any major new projects. It is also dependent on Crossrail opening on the long-delayed schedule and providing extra income. Mr Byford suggests that without extra “investment” (i.e. spending money he does not have), London’s transport network could enter a doomsday scenario of managed decline.

In other words, instead of using profits from existing operations to maintain and improve the network, he wants the Government to donate large sums of money out of our taxes to help him implement grandiose plans. This is surely no way to run a business – and make no mistake TfL is a business not just a public service.

Mr Byford seems to want to follow the typical socialist mantra of spend, spend, spend to solve his financial problems. Surely there is a better way.

FT Article:  https://www.ft.com/content/60e63984-dad6-4fed-ae9c-9c0888b74bb6

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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Andy Byford Speaks to the Standard

London Transport Commissioner Andy Byford recently gave an interview with the Evening Standard which is informative. He talks about the problem of re-establishing confidence in the underground network to help restore the finances of TfL, and the promotion of electric buses to cure air pollution problems – but that won’t happen for the whole bus fleet until 2030.

One interesting point the article makes is that Mr Byford is a non-driver. He does of course have responsibility for the road network in London as his remit includes Transport for London who control the roads. Is it not astonishing that we have a Transport Commissioner who has no personal experience of using the road network which is used to transport a very high proportion of people and goods in London?

This shows the innate prejudice against motorised road transport that has been introduced into London by politicians.

Reference 1: Evening Standard Article: https://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/tfl-boss-andy-byford-clash-ministers-plan-ditch-masks-tube-b943356.html

Reference 2: Andy Byford interview: https://www.londonrising.standard.co.uk/programme/andy-byford-in-conversation-with-emily-sheffield

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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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London