According to a report on the BBC, London is now the world’s slowest city in which to drive. It took an average of 36 minutes to drive 6.2 miles in 2022 according to TomTom.
It is also the most expensive for electric car charging. Using fast EV charge points could cost £2,055 to drive 10,000 miles.
Comment: The mismanagement of the road network by Transport for London (TfL) is the prime cause of the reduced travel times and increased congestion in London. Mayor Sadiq Khan must take some of the blame for this as he has backed the policies that have reduced traffic speeds and removed road space.
The cost of EV charging is also discouraging people from buying electric vehicles. It’s actually cheaper to run a petrol car.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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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There was a good article recently in the Guardian by Gwyn Topham entitled “How London got rid of private cars – and grew more congested than ever”. It described in graphic terms how despite falling numbers of cars, congestion has got worse. Part of the problem is that the reduction in private cars, which are almost non-existent in central London now, has been offset by the increase in PHVs (Uber etc) and LGVs delivering internet parcels or doing “just-in-time” deliveries.
Cycle lanes and other reductions in road space have also made matters worse while the Congestion Charge has been totally ineffective in reducing congestion (see this page for our analysis of that costly and ineffective system: https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/congestion ).
The impact of more congestion has hit bus users hard and reduced ridership. Slower buses put people off using them and congestion also means an unreliable service. Traffic speed is now down to about 8 mph.
All of these problems have been caused by poor transport policies in London with unintended consequences. Attacking private car use has been turned out to be particularly pointless and just makes matters worse, as Councillors in Lewisham with their “Healthy Neighbourhoods” scheme will no doubt soon learn if they do not reconsider their proposals.
There is a better way, but the Mayor of London and his transport bosses will not listen because they seem more interested in making money from charging road users than fixing the congestion problem.
The BBC has reported on congested roads in the UK and rates the North Circular Road (A406) as the worst. Needless to say, other London roads such as the A23, Kingsway/Strand and the A1203 (The Highway) also rate highly.
The report is based on information from Inrix who estimated that London drivers lost about 227 hours each on average to congestion. London is by far the worst city in the country for traffic congestion. For example in Leeds only 143 hours are lost. Is it surprising that many companies have expanded operations in Leeds as opposed to London?
What have the current and past Mayor’s done about traffic congestion in London? Basically done nothing but make it worse. The Congestion Charge scheme has been an abysmal failure and the growth in PHV (minicab) use and internet deliveries have contributed more recently. Schemes such as cycle superhighways on the Embankment which reduced 2 lanes to 1 on a major east-west route have also made congestion worse – that is why The Highway is congested as traffic backs up from Lower/Upper Thames Street all the way there.
Transport for London (TfL) and the Mayor Sadiq Khan think they can reduce congestion by encouraging modal shift – persuading people to cycle or use public transport – but that simply does not work. They need to rethink their approach. The current Mayor’s Transport Strategy is already proving to be an abject failure.