Turning London into a Ghetto

We have covered the disastrous mismanagement of the finances of Transport for London (TfL) in several previous articles. That came home to roost when the coronavirus epidemic reduced people’s inclination to use public transport thus reducing TfL’s income and resulting in the need for Government bail-outs.

The latest wheeze by Mayor Sadiq Khan to fix his financial difficulties is the proposal to charge anyone who drives into London from outside a tax of £3.50 per day (or £5.50 for more polluting vehicles). The whole of the Greater London Authority (GLA) area which is that within the M25 would be subject to the “charge” (i.e. tax) so yet again we have the situation that those who have to pay the tax are not represented because they have no say in who gets elected as Mayor of London. This is totally undemocratic.

There are estimated to be 1.3 million journeys into London from outside each week which are mainly into the outer suburbs. But it would seem the Mayor is keen to turn London into a ghetto of cyclists and public transport users. Even with the new tax which might raise £250 million per year, it won’t solve the financial difficulties of TfL. It’s still likely to need another bailout from the Government of another £3 billion.

There was an interesting article in the Daily Telegraph last week that reported that the UK population is “in the biggest fall since the Second World War”. The over-population of our crowded island, particularly in London and the South-East, has been one of my major concerns for some years. This has led to congested transport systems and a major shortage of homes.

The population reduction is not because of deaths from Covid-19 which have only risen slightly above the normal levels but an “unprecedented exodus of foreign-born workers” resulting in a fall of 1.3 million in 2020. The largest fall was in London where it may have been 700,000. The article also suggests there is likely to be a “baby bust” as couples delay starting a family which might push the birth rate to its lowest on record according to estimates from PWC.

Such a reduction in the population of London will have negative consequences for the economy in general and particularly for the finances of TfL so the proposals for more taxes and Government bail-outs may only be a short-term fix to TfL’s financial difficulties. They still have not faced up to the issue that the public transport network needs to be downsized to meet the demand.

The proposed Greater London “boundary charge” will be the subject of a feasibility study and later public consultation before it can go ahead. It will clearly require permission from central Government. You can read more about this and other proposals to fund TfL in the “Financial Sustainability Plan” – see http://content.tfl.gov.uk/financial-sustainability-plan-11-january-2021.pdf

Although some reductions in bus services are proposed to save money, TfL are also proposing to go into commercial property development so as to generate more income. It was of course the speculation in commercial property development that got the London Borough of Croydon into such major financial difficulty that they have effectively become insolvent. Perhaps this is not such a wise idea after all?   

An interesting chart from the Plan is this one:

It shows how underground train usage has been reduced to a small fraction of former levels by the pandemic and bus usage is not much better. Traffic levels are also below normal and cycling rose during the summer but has since fallen back to previous levels. There is no cycling revolution in London as some people claim.

The Plan also suggests that with the demand for active travel growing “to capitalise on enthusiasm during lockdown we should invest in reallocating road space from private cars in a way that allows for mixed use” (see page 38). So it looks like we see even more money wasted on cycle lanes and worse gridlock in London.

The Plan also proposes Road User Charging as a way to finance the Mayor’s Transport Strategy (see page 94). In other words, this is likely to be another way to raise taxes on Londoners.  

In total, these proposals will hasten the destruction of London’s economy and encourage even more people to leave London to live elsewhere. Certainly anyone reading the Plan will get the urge to do so.

Roger Lawson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Drivers_London

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