Congestion Charge Rise to be Scrapped?

In June 2020 the central London Congestion Charge (a.k.a. Tax) was raised to £15 per day and made effective for 24 hours per day for 7 days per week. This was declared to be a “temporary” change to cope with the impact on TfL finances of the Covid pandemic and to discourage car use which might rise in the short term as people avoided public transport. Mayor Sadiq Khan blamed the Government for forcing him to make the change although Government Ministers said it was solely his decision.

But on the 26th April Khan said in a hustings meeting that “I will be negotiating with the Government so we don’t have to have it [the increased congestion charge] seven days a week or up until 10pm”.

But Conservative Mayoral Candidate Shaun Bailey said this to City AM in response: “Sadiq Khan is making things complicated. But the truth is very simple.

The Mayor decided to raise the Congestion Charge and the Mayor can choose to reverse it – today. The fact that he isn’t tells us everything we need to know.

Khan is trying to win votes by promising to cut the very taxes he raised. That’s like an arsonist trying to get out of jail by promising to put out the fire he started”.

Bailey went on to reiterate a pledge he made last June, saying: “As Mayor, I’ll reverse the Congestion Charge hike on day one, no consultation, no studies, no ifs, not buts. This is the fresh start that London needs.”

Comment: From my personal experience of driving into central London for hospital visits in the last few weeks, the raised congestion tax made absolutely no difference. When nobody was going to work in central London the traffic disappeared. When they returned the traffic was worse than it was before the lock-downs.

This looks like another attempt to win votes by bribing the electorate from Sadiq Khan which he has been so adept at doing in the past. But will he actually remove the “temporary” increase and extended times? His statement is ambiguous to say the least.

I suggest Shaun Bailey is more to be trusted on this than Sadiq Kahn, something to bear in mind when voting next week.

Roger Lawson

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Mayor Spells Out His Policies in the Times

Sadiq Khan has reiterated his policies on cars and air pollution in an article in the Times. He repeated his call for drivers to give up their cars and said: “Where you can give up using cars, I would encourage that. We can avoid a health crisis that is around air quality and obesity but [it] will also mean that those who do need to use the roads for good reason, be that you are a black-cab driver, electrician, plumber, blue-light services, delivery driver and so forth, are not stuck in traffic and frustrated about productivity when others who have alternatives aren’t using them.”

He repeats his gross exaggeration of the dangers of air pollution to the health of the public as a justification for the expansion of the ULEZ and the proposed charge for entering London from outside. In reality, the expansion of the ULEZ will have minimal impact on air pollution and in just a few years’ time the benefit will have completely disappeared. But there will be massive costs imposed on London’s vehicle owners. See this previous blog post for the data: https://freedomfordrivers.blog/2020/04/15/ulez-the-latest-information-including-poor-financial-outcome/

However you look at it, it’s about raising taxes not improving the health of Londoners.

Times Article: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/c71af668-a4ff-11eb-be8f-c06519de93dd?shareToken=88c7f827c16cd944a33cd315efb17e2d

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Mayoral Race Hotting-Up

The campaigns to get elected as the next Mayor of London are getting more active. For those who are considering voting for Sadiq Khan, an article published in the Independent makes it look like an ominous choice for anyone who wants to drive in London.

The article said that he vows to press ahead with controversial plans to get Londoners out of their cars.  The current Mayor said to the Independent that we “need to make sure we don’t go from one health crisis of Covid, to another one – even worse – of air quality”. Of course this makes for good political banter but it is untrue that air pollution is a major health crisis. It is certainly worth improving what air pollution there is in London as it might tackle some health issues but it has been steadily improving for years and years in most areas. Londoners have been living longer which puts a lie to the claim of major health crisis. Air pollution has only been highlighted in some locations recently because of the impact of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) which has made things worse, while sources of air pollution other than vehicles are ignored.

Sadiq Khan said this in the article: “Our roads should be limited to blue light services, to electricians, to plumbers, to commercial drivers, to taxis, to those that need to use our roads – delivery drivers and so forth – rather than individuals that could be walking, cycling and using public transport”. So it seems those who wish to drive their family to their friends or relatives elsewhere in the country should be banned from using London’s roads. And doing a week’s shopping and carrying it home or visiting doctors should also be banned. Meanwhile the hypocrite that he is drives around in an armoured Range Rover (cost: £300,000 according to the Mail OnLine).

The Independent article is a classic example of how to throw mud at your opponents and to ignore the desires of the residents of London to have the LTN roads re-opened. See article on the link below for the full horror of what Mr Khan believes which includes some very misleading comments about his opponent’s policies.

To read about all the candidates and their policies in a less biased form, read this previous blog post:  https://freedomfordrivers.blog/2021/04/10/london-elections-runners-and-riders/

The Independent Article: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/london-mayor-sadiq-khan-traffic-b1834758.html

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Tories Abandoning London?

There was a good article in the Telegraph by Allister Heath yesterday about the Tories abysmal showing in London politics (they are likely to lose the Mayoral vote to Sadiq Khan in May if you believe the latest poll results). This is some of what he said under the headline “The Tories have abandoned Sadiq Khan’s London to a doom-spiral of permanent decline”:

“The reality is that while the Tories will happily take your tax money, they won’t lift a finger to help you. They prefer to help Khan: refusing to criticise the Met Police’s deplorable performance, which the mayor is ultimately responsible for; handing over billions for Transport for London, chaired by the mayor, without seizing genuine control; and promoting Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and anti-car measures that infuriate Tory voters. Covid should have been a chance to force an insolvent London mayoralty into special measures, and engineer a renegotiation of the dysfunctional devolution settlement; instead, Labour has been handed victory on a plate.

London’s “agglomeration economics” model is based on a massive, almost self-financing public transport infrastructure ferrying workers into central offices. Much of that will return, but even a 10 per cent permanent decline in commuter trips will bankrupt the transport system, forcing higher taxes and user fees, further discouraging demand.

At some stage, remote working will trigger Beeching-style cuts, tipping central London into a spiral of decline and dispersing economic activity across the nation and even the world.

Dense cities generally require more state intervention, planning and spending than exburbs. Instead, the Tories are pursuing an urban policy indistinguishable from Labour’s, have fallen in love with neo-communist ideas such as the 15-minute city – good for childless 20-something Deliveroo addicts, terrible for extended families, religious and cultural life and school choice – and transport policies that lock in ever greater levels of public subsidy.

The Government appears oblivious to all this, and has decided that it wants to win Hartlepool, not Harrow. Why not both? In abandoning Londoners to long-term decline, while simultaneously and mindlessly embracing Left-wing urbanism, it is betraying not just its electorate but also the country’s long-term interests”.

Comment: Many London boroughs are now so dominated by extreme left councillors that they pursue extreme policies with glee and without opposition. There is no active local democracy in such circumstances. Some London councils have only Labour councillors, i.e. no other parties represented and no independents.

It certainly seems that support for Tory mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey is waning although there are a number of other contenders for the job of Mayor. My position is that Sadiq Khan has done a very poor job. His policies have been divisive and he has not tackled the big issues in London of housing, crime and transport while running up massive financial deficits. The road network is becoming paralysed by the growth of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, a policy actually promoted by central Government and Conservative ministers.

Sadiq Khan seems to prefer to spend more time on attacking the Government and playing politics than actually doing the job he was elected to do. Only a few years ago the common saying was “Vote for anyone but Ken” in the era of Ken Livingstone after the public became disillusioned with his performance. Now the saying is surely “Vote for anyone but Khan”.  

Roger Lawson

Full Telegraph article here: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2021/03/17/tories-have-abandoned-sadiq-khans-london-doom-spiral-permanent/

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Lies, Damn Lies, Statistics and School Streets

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, has claimed in a tweet that “closing roads around schools to traffic at pick-up and drop-off times has reduced polluting nitrogen dioxide levels by up to 23%”. He has also issued a press release saying the same thing and giving more details – see below.

But the study on which this claim is based was only launched in September 2020 so the period covered is one where traffic was much reduced due to the pandemic and when schools were closed. It is hardly likely to be representative of the normal conditions.

The press release also claims that School Streets are popular with parents but those affected by the road closures who do not have children were not included in the survey. The Mayor even claims that “18% of parents are driving to school less during the pandemic, helping to clean up London’s air”. That’s surely hardly surprising as the schools have been closed!

This looks like a good example of selecting the statistics and the surveyed population that suit your argument while ignoring the bigger picture and the truth.

School Streets are allegedly so popular that Lewisham Council have introduced road closures on roads where there are no schools under the name of School Streets, simply to stop people driving through the Lee Green LTN area. The Council seems to think they can fool people into supporting the LTN by such dubious sophistry.

Mayor’s Press Release: https://www.london.gov.uk/press-releases/mayoral/school-streets-improve-air-quality

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Sadiq Khan Bailed Out Again and Legal Action Over LTNs

A deal was done over the weekend to keep Transport for London (TfL) afloat – at least temporarily. The Mayor’s Press Release issued yesterday (see below) was headlined “Mayor sees off plan to extend C-Charge as deal reached on TfL funding” which is a typical bit of political point scoring from Sadiq Khan. There was of course an enormous amount of opposition to extending the Congestion Charge (a.k.a. Tax) to a wider area as so many people would have been affected. But the Mayor has had to concede to some changes to keep London’s public transport system functioning until next March.

Some of the details are:

£1.8 billion of Government grant and borrowing made available – but note the increase in borrowing when TfL already has too much debt.

Concessionary fares will remain for older and younger Londoners.

Public transport fares will only increase as previously agreed.

Transport for London to make £160m of savings this financial year, and City Hall will need to raise additional income to protect concessions for older and younger Londoners for future years – if the Mayor wants to continue these. But where is he going to make those savings or raise the additional income from? It does not say.

A modest increase in council tax is to be looked at and the temporary changes to the central London Congestion Charge that were introduced in June 2020 will remain, i.e. they are likely to become permanent.

As one commentator said, this looks like kicking the can down the road as it will not solve the basic imbalance between income and expenditure in TfL over the next 6 months so come next March some tougher decisions will need to be made. It is very unlikely that the impact of the Covid-10 epidemic will have disappeared by then.

Postscript: the full terms of the bail-out have now been published in the Government’s letter to Sadiq Khan. See https://tinyurl.com/yyyxnvnp . You can see why he might be furious over the outcome because it makes it clear that TfL will remain under Government scrutiny and the Mayor has to come up with a sensible and “sustainable” financial plan for it.

Legal Action Over LTNs

The Daily Telegraph has reported on the commencement of legal action against Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) in Enfield which we covered in a previous blog post. See link below to full article. It refers to “Emergency Traffic Orders” when I think it is talking about Temporary or Experimental Traffic Orders introduced under the Emergency Procedures introduced in June because of the Covid-19 epidemic.

The Telegraph articles also refers to legal challenges being mounted in Croydon and Lambeth. The OneLambeth campaign are raising funds for the legal challenge – see https://www.gofundme.com/f/OneLambeth . Please support them.

It will be worthwhile to follow these legal cases and we hope to report more details in due course.

Just to show how strongly the residents of Crystal Palace (Croydon) feel about the road closures, see this YouTube video of a demonstration over the weekend:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMrQna7tFmM

Telegraph Article: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/10/31/green-roads-council-becomes-first-taken-court-campaigners-say/

Emergency Traffic Order Procedures: https://tinyurl.com/ybns7rwx

Mayor of London Press Release: https://www.london.gov.uk/press-releases/mayoral/mayor-reaches-deal-on-tfl-funding

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More Taxes on Car Drivers, and Londoners in General

I covered the TfL bail-out deal that Sadiq Khan agreed with the Government in a previous blog post. As usual the Mayor blames the Government. So he says today: “The Government is, in effect, making ordinary Londoners pay the cost for doing the right thing on Covid-19”. He also said: “This deal is a sticking plaster. The old model for funding public transport in London simply does not work in this new reality – fares income will not cover the cost of running services while so few people can safely use public transport. Over the next few months we will have to negotiate a new funding model with Government – which will involve either permanent funding from Government or giving London more control over key taxes so we can pay for it ourselves – or a combination of both”. Yes it looks like the Mayor wants to take more from you in taxes!

See the link to the full announcement below.

To help raise more revenue, the Congestion Charge and ULEZ taxes are being immediately reinstated and the Congestion Charge is to go up a whopping 30% from the 22nd June and the times will be extended to between 07:00 and 22:00, seven days a week. It is suggested this might be a temporary change, but don’t bet on it!

In addition there will be road closures and Heidi Alexander has said “One of the world’s largest car free zones will be created in central London as part of our response to Covid-19”.

This is what Black-cab driver and general secretary of the London Taxi Drivers’ Association (LTDA) Steve McNamara said to the BBC: “ It’s an absolute disgrace –  no one had been consulted about plans to change the use of some roads. Usually you have to consult with the public and businesses – they are using a health emergency to get around the laws to consult people before you do these things. London will grind to a halt even with reduced people. It’s a land grab to exclude Londoners from their roads and to widen pavements for more cycling”.

We certainly agree with those comments and we have pointed out that the Covid-19 epidemic is being used to introduce an agenda that penalises private travel and reduces your freedom.

But it’s not just vehicle users who are going to be penalised. The BBC has said this about the Freedom Pass: “Under the new conditions, children will no longer have free travel across London and restrictions on travel passes for people with a disability or over the age of 60 will also be imposed during peak hours”, although no formal announcement has yet to be made. The Freedom Pass might have been overdue for reform but the Mayor will no doubt blame this on the Government also rather than his own financial mismanagement.

Roger Lawson

Mayor’s Announcement: https://www.london.gov.uk/press-releases/mayoral/statement-from-the-mayor-of-london-regarding-tfl

You can see more details of the proposals from TfL to change London here:  https://tfl.gov.uk/travel-information/improvements-and-projects/streetspace-for-london

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Sadiq Khan and TfL Bailed Out

Blackfriars Bridge at Lunch TimeAfter threatening the Government that TfL would have to make deep cuts to public transport in London unless they came up with some money by the close of yesterday, they did agree a bail-out. But with some conditions attached.

The Government has agreed to provide TfL with £1.5 billion in grants and loans to enable TfL to continue operating for at least a few months. With most of TfL’s income coming from bus and underground fares, the collapse in usage as people avoid public transport in the virus pandemic has resulted in massive losses at TfL which are still continuing. In addition the Mayor’s previous decisions to suspend increases in public transport fares, which he made to ensure election, have been enormously damaging to TfL finances and meant they were already budgeting massive deficits even before the epidemic hit.

The suspension of the Congestion Charge and ULEZ has also not helped, plus the fact that you can avoid paying bus fares by entering through the central door as is now required. Even TfL’s advertising revenue has fallen as advertisers’ budgets have fallen and they won’t pay when far few people are using public transport. With social distancing required, even the capacity of buses and the underground will be severely restricted for some time, even if people can be persuaded to use it.

The details of the agreed deal have not yet been disclosed, but the BBC reported that it includes a commitment to raise public transport fares by inflation plus 1%, two seats on the TfL board and a complete review of its finances. TfL has also committed to run a full service when previously they were cutting to 75%.

Mr Khan as usual blamed the Government rather than his own financial incompetence. This is what the BBC reported as being said by someone in the Mayor’s office: “They have forced ordinary Londoners to pay a very heavy price for doing the right thing on Covid-19 by hiking TfL fares, temporarily suspending the Freedom Pass at busy times and loading TfL with debt that Londoners will pay for in the long run”.

Grant Shapps, Transport Secretary, said it was wrong for the rest of the country to be bailing out Londoners but in fact Londoners who never use public transport will be paying a lot of the bill anyway via the Mayoral Council Tax Precept and in other ways.

What should the Mayor have done instead of running up a large deficit, and what should he do now?

Clearly many TfL projects have been very expensive. Building cycle superhighways has not come cheap and schemes such as Crossrail have very marginal cost/benefit ratios. The Mayor’s office and TfL management costs have also grown as the Mayor built an empire at taxpayer’s expense. It seems likely that a number of projects such as to expand the underground network will now have to be cancelled. Subsidies to bus operations which have been running at about £1 billion per annum could never be justified except by the desire of the Mayor to win popularity and elections.

The Mayor and TfL have actually cut their bus income by introducing road schemes that slowed traffic including buses, thus cutting bus ridership. You cannot solve these problems by simply encouraging cycling. The average distance travelled by a London commuter is 13 miles per day with many travelling much longer distances. That makes it impractical for many people to cycle even if they had an inclination to do so. The danger of cycling puts many people off using it for long journeys. Department for Transport (DfT) figures show that there are 1,139 serious injuries and 29 deaths for every million miles cycled, while for car drivers the figures are only 27 and 2 respectively.

The Mayor and central Government should face up to realities and work on the following:

  1. Free up the road network to enable more commuting via cars/taxis and improve bus services. Stop reducing road space.
  2. Provide more parking facilities at low cost.
  3. Encourage more tele-commuting by investing in broadband services and support.
  4. Encourage businesses to relocate out of congested central London into the London suburbs and elsewhere.
  5. Retail facilities and hotels/restaurants should be relocated similarly.
  6. We should move away from the concentration of businesses and facilities in central London to have a wider distribution so we are not reliant on public transport so much.
  7. Bus and underground services should pay for themselves. Handouts for political reasons (such as the Freedom Pass) should be severely restricted to those who really do need travel support, i.e. those who cannot afford to pay.
  8. The ULEZ and Congestion Charge should be scrapped as they don’t really provide a sensible return on the investment and operating costs. They are simply a financial burden on Londoners with very little benefit.

All it needs is strong and wise leadership from the Mayor of London to get Londoners through the current crisis, but will we get it? It seems unlikely from the current Mayor.

All that is likely to happen is that the TfL deficit will continue to grow after this short-term bail-out unless someone really gets to grips with the underlying financial problems.

P.S. Government announcement here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-grants-transport-for-london-funding-package?   They apparently still think the problems can be solved by encouraging cycling.

Roger Lawson

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Sadiq Khan Asks for £1 Billion Bail-Out

Sadiq Khan may be asking for as much as £1 billion to bail-out Transport for London (TfL). He did not deny it when interviewed on BBC television. The organisation is haemorrhaging cash as most of its income comes from bus and tube fares and usage of those has severely declined. It may be unable to pay its staff very shortly without some Government support and has already “furloughed” 7,000 staff from today. TfL will be able to access funding from the Government’s Job Retention Scheme for those staff, saving the organisation millions of pounds every week, but that’s only a short-term and temporary solution to the Mayor’s financial problems.

How did the Mayor get TfL into the position where it cannot survive the problems caused by the coronavirus epidemic? In essence because the Mayor is financially inept and has allowed TfL to run up massive deficits so it has minimal reserves to cope with such an event. We have commented on this issue repeatedly – for example here on the TfL budget in January: https://freedomfordrivers.blog/2020/01/17/tfl-business-plan-and-budget-for-the-next-5-years-more-of-the-same/

Total borrowing was forecast to reach £12.3 billion within 2 years because of delays to Crossrail and other issues, and that was before the impact of the coronavirus. A lot of the problem is caused by the Mayor spending money on programmes such as cycle schemes, Active Travel, Healthy Streets, Vision Zero road safety, the ULEZ and other policies for which there was no cost/benefit justification provided in this Mayor’s Transport Strategy (MTS). Now we are seeing the result of this financial incompetence and inability to manage the budget.

We suggest that before the Government hands the Mayor any cash, they should lay down some conditions on how it will be used and insist on some changes to the MTS. Scrapping the expansion of the ULEZ would be a good starting point.

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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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