Traffic Speeds in London – They Are Getting Worse

I was having a clear out today of my office, and I happened to notice a copy of Ken Livingstone’s Mayor’s Transport Strategy dating from July 2001. It made for both amusing reading and anger at the lack of progress made since.

This is the first sentence in his Foreword to that document: “The single biggest problem for London is the gridlock of our transport system. At the start of the 21st Century, traffic speeds in central London have fallen to less than ten miles an hour with knock-on effects on the speed and reliability of the bus system. Congestion is growing in outer London town centres. Rail services are in unprecedented crisis. The Underground is more over-crowded and unreliable…..”. He said the transport crisis threatened London’s economic prosperity and suggested London needed a “world class transport system”.

Have we got one now? Not exactly and traffic speeds have actually fallen below what they were in 2001. In central London traffic speeds were reported as being less than 9 mph in central London last year by various sources, and as low as 7.3 mph in one quarter in 2017.

The Underground is more crowded than ever with some stations having to be closed at peak times. Surface rail has improved in some regards on some lines, but certainly not if you are a Southern Rail user.

What did Mr Livingstone plan to do to improve the dire state of affairs he commented upon? Apart from the fine words about improving the capacity of the public transport network as in Sadiq Khans recently published Transport Strategy, he proposed to implement a Congestion Charge “to deter unnecessary vehicle journeys in central London”. That obviously did not work. You can find a lot more analysis of why on this web page: .

Excuses from the Mayor and Transport for London as to why it did not work are numerous but are false. It failed simply because London has such high unsatisfied demand for road space and lots of people willing to pay for it, that they simply soaked up the space. The Congestion Charge (a.k.a. Tax) has more than doubled since Ken Livingstone introduced it, and still it did not work. In addition, more road space has been taken up by buses which are massively subsidised and their numbers expanded under Livingstone (they are still high) and by the modern fashion for PHVs (Uber etc). The growth in the population of London, and of businesses in central London, have created major headwinds in addition while cycle lanes have taken up valuable road space but are often relatively little used.

Mr Livingstone, and his successors Boris Johnson and Sadiq Khan have persisted with irrational and unproductive gestures without getting to the nub of the issue and producing policies that might actually work. Boris Johnson seemed to try to solve the problem by encouraging cycling, and Sadiq Khan’s added walking as a solution to both our transport and health problems. He also suggests road pricing or more congestion charging might help when we know from experience that those policies will not improve matters.

I suggest readers tell Sadiq Khan that a totally fresh approach is needed. Not more of the same regurgitated policies that emanate from Transport for London.

Roger Lawson


You can “follow” this blog by clicking on the bottom right.

New Mayor’s Broken Promise

No sooner had new London Mayor Sadiq Khan taken office than it transpired that one of his key vote winning pledges was not what it seemed. He promised to freeze public transport fares for four years but that will only apply to certain fares it is now reported.

Mr Khan told the London Assembly last week that the price freeze would not extend to season tickets because they can include stages on trains run by private companies. Those companies are regulated by the Government and not by the Mayor and TfL. The Government has rejected any idea of freezing fares so the Mayor’s original promise cannot be delivered in full.

Mike Brown, Transport Commissioner, gave us the good news though. This means the cost of the “promise” will only be a £600m impact on TfL’s budgets rather than the £1.9bn that he was talking about under the previous regime. But that’s a lot of money to find to fill the hole in the budget and still deliver on the Mayor’s other promises.

Mr Khan is hoping to save money by tackling inefficiencies in TFL where more than 400 staff earn more than £100,000 a year and both they and their families get free travel perks (now under review).

Old Mayor’s Advice Ignored – Bus Passengers the Main Losers

An article in Local Transport Today (LTT) had long-standing public transport supporter David Begg complaining that Boris Johnson ignored advice to reduce road vehicle demand in central London while introducing the cycle superhighways. By not reducing traffic volumes, the result has been worsening congestion and slower traffic speeds. He said “Bus passengers have been the main losers”. The article reported that bus speeds have fallen by more than 5% on a third of routes in London in the last year. This has also reduced bus passenger volumes. But even Mr Begg concedes that “It is the substantial reduction in road space, with planned roadworks increasing by 362% over the last three years, which has led to significant increases in congestion”. Editor’s comment: how amusing to see this arch advocate of road pricing and congestion charging admit that congestion has been caused in London by the previous Mayor’s perverse destruction of the road network in the pursuit to get us all cycling.

Roger Lawson

Boris More Damaging than the Blitz, and Age Discriminatory

Lord Lawson, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer (and no relation to the writer although folks often call me Nigel), said in the House of Lords last week (14/12/2015) that what is happening now “has done more damage, and is doing more damage, to London than almost anything since the Blitz“. He was referring to the “Mayor’s addiction to cycling” and the introduction of the Cycle Superhighways by Boris Johnson and Transport for London.

He also suggested that the current support of cycling was hugely age discriminatory because there is a huge section of the population of a certain age (well represented in the House of Lords of course) for whom cycling is not a practical option.

Lord Higgins complained about the “appalling increases in congestion and pollution caused by the introduction of bicycle lanes” and suggested they should be shared instead during most of the day. He particularly referred to Lower Thames Street where he suggested “they are likely to die from carbon monoxide poisoning” or other pollution any moment now.

Comment: Lord Lawson hit the nail on the head. Since the road works to put in the East-West Cycle Superhighway have reduced traffic to one lane from two there has been a massive increase in congestion across the whole of central London. Queues on the Embankment and Upper/Lower Thames Street can back up for miles in peak periods and even during off-peak periods there are long delays. In addition traffic is diverting to other routes to travel East/West causing congestion in the City and West End. Indeed the whole central London road network has been seriously degraded.

It does of course affect all traffic so even bus users have suffered as a result. This situation will not get better when the road works have finished.

Roger Lawson

How Much is “Ambience” Worth? The Economics of the East-West Cycle Superhighway

The East-West Cycle Superhighway has a range of benefits and disbenefits. Some people will gain (mainly cyclists) while others will lose out (motorists from traffic delays, and even bus passengers and pedestrians). There is of course a way of combining all these different advantages and disadvantages as with any other major transport scheme which is to calculate the Net Present Value (NPV), or Cost/Benefit ratio. This also gives a good measure of whether it is sensible to invest in a scheme, in comparison with investing in something else instead.

Well what is the NPV of this Superhighway? It was given in the report to the TfL Board before they made a decision to proceed and is present here:

Note that the financial budget for all the Cycle Superhighways that was approved is £162 million which is of course a very substantial sum.

You can see the NPV (or Benefit to Cost Ratio, BCR, as the report calls it) on page 65. This shows that although there are positive overall benefits over 30 years for the other cycle superhighways, the East-West one has a negative value of minus £200 million.  And that’s even after valuing the improved “ambience” for pedestrians at £14 million, improved ambience to cyclists of £8.2 million, improved ambience to “others” of £5 million and reduced absenteeism at £1.2 million. Bus operations have a disbenefit of minus £5 million and although health and safety show positive figures they are swamped by the minus £37 million from traffic delays.

They don’t even include the reduced “ambience” for motorists and goods vehicle drivers stuck in traffic jams.

Stephen Glaister of the RAC Foundation said he was astonished the scheme is going ahead given economic disbenefits of £200m. The other superhighways are also questionable depending on whether you believe the “ambience” improvement (and they don’t say how that is measured or valued) offsets the negative impact of increased journey times.

In the view of this writer, this scheme smacks of irrationality and of course these figures were not provided before the scheme went to public consultation so no informed responses to the consultation were possible. A stitch-up by TfL management and by Boris Johnson in essence. As I already said to him, I won’t be voting for him ever again based on his promotion of this scheme so his ambitions on the national political scene may not be as good as he thinks, if others take the same view.

Roger Lawson