London Transport Strategy
The following are some articles on the London Transport Strategy and Congestion Charging Scheme published in our previous Newsletters - note that a 10 page report on the scheme submitted to the London Assembly 6 months after the congestion charge commenced operation can be seen at Congestion_Submission (a pdf document).
Comments on the London Transport Strategy, published August 2001
The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, has recently published his Transport Strategy. This is a document of over 450 pages so this article is a very brief summary of some of the key points, with some appropriate comments. The full document can be downloaded from the GLA web site or phone 020 7983 4323 to order a printed copy.
I think there is general agreement that transport in London has been getting worse rather than better over the years. Anyone who has lived and worked in London, whether they use rail, tube, bus or car, has probably experienced problems. Public transport has suffered from lack of investment with the result that for a major world city, London has now one of the worst public transport networks. It is unreliable, dirty, uncomfortable and expensive.
London also has one of the worst road networks, and even compares badly with other major UK cities such as Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. Where those cities have taken the opportunity to build both new public transport networks and road networks, London has consistently failed to do so. Note that the political complexion of the controlling councils in other cities did not necessarily affect these decisions - good transport networks were seen to be of benefit to all social classes.
Whereas other towns took the opportunity to rebuild their infrastructure where it had become run down, London never took the opportunity to build a new environment, even after the second world war when many parts of London were devastated. As a result the London road network is still based on a layout established in the middle ages, and the train and tube network is predominantly Victorian. One of the major reasons for this was the disjointed control of the London transport network. Following the disbanding of the old GLC for political reasons, control of the road network passed to local boroughs. The result was lack of co-ordination and inaction. No borough wanted a major road constructed through it, preferring that it went through a neighbouring one. The result was no improvement to the road network and resulting heavy traffic on local, residential streets with the associated congestion. South London was particularly badly affected with the South Circular remaining a major road in name only, which everyone avoids if at all possible. The A2 and A20, major roads into London, simply peter out into unimproved local roads in Greenwich and Lewisham primarily because of lack of any strategic vision.
These problems were compounded by the difficulty that Londoners often see themselves as residents of a local neighourhood or "village" (poor transport links between adjacent parts of London contribute to this mentality). This happens even when the locality is run down and contains poor quality infrastructure and buildings. The resulting nimbyism tends to militate against any worthwhile transport infrastructure development. The outcome has been the costly transport of goods, industry and commerce tending to move elsewhere, inefficient local transport networks, and massive noise and air pollution problems.
Similarly the London Underground suffered from political interference, lack of long term strategic planning and government underfunding. Road and rail networks were unco-ordinated and have not adapted to new patterns of work and residential locations.
Note that the population of London is now growing again, leading to overcrowding on many train and tube lines. The previous drift of people from London to rural areas has been halted. However London's population is still about 600,000 below what it was in 1961.
Traffic growth in London has been constrained by the poor road network (there were 23,600 cars and taxis in central London each day in 1991 and this only increased slightly to 24,600 in 2001 with a matching slight reduction in average traffic speed). Similarly traffic growth in the outer London boroughs such as Bromley have tended to level off, even though car ownership continues to rise. Congestion is causing self regulation of traffic growth.
Well the above states some of the problems. The new Greater London Authority and the position of Mayor were designed to reverse the downward trend and provide a more positive strategic control and planning capability. The leadership of an elected mayor with a strong political mandate could hopefully force through some necessary changes, and get appropriate co-operation from central government. Unfortunately in respect of the last point, the electorate voted for Mr Livingstone standing as an independent, who is not exactly popular with the ruling Labour party for reasons that readers may no doubt remember.
So what is the Mayor proposing? His ten key transport priorities are stated to be (I have condensed the excessive verbiage of the report - these take up a whole page in the "executive summary" alone):
Note that major new road schemes are ruled out on the basis that they would be "environmentally unacceptable" and "financially unaffordable". Therefore the strategy to reduce traffic congestion is by improvements to public transport, more enforcement of traffic regulations and the introduction of a congestion charging scheme.
Major investment in the London Underground and the proposed Public Private Partnership (PPP) takes up a lot of space in the document, but as Bromley is not serviced significantly by the tube, only limited space has been devoted to it in this report.
Major improvements to the bus network are envisaged, and in the short term, these are seen as a means of relieving congestion on the rail and tube network (where improvements will take many years to implement). However as the report says "The greatest challenge for the bus service is to deliver a level of reliability and dependability that will attract new users from cars. Overall bus reliability has fallen over the recent years, principally due to traffic congestion. The problems have been exacerbated by streetworks, uncontrolled parking and bus driver shortages." (What the report does not say is that increasing the number of buses may well contribute further to congestion because buses are large vehicles that stop frequently, often block the carriageway and generally travel slower than the prevailing traffic flow).
The following are the suggested solutions:
- A central London congestion charging scheme.
- Additional rail services including "CrossRail" and Thameslink 2000 routes across London and a Hackney-SouthWest Line.
- New Thames river crossings including a rail crossing at Woolwich, a "multi-modal" crossing at Thamesmead and a third road crossing at Blackwall with public transport priority.
- Extensions to the Docklands Light Railway, Croydon Tramlink and East London Line and rail improvements in the Lee Valley area.
- Pedestrianisation of Trafalgar Square and other squares.
- Expansion of the bus network and extension of bus priorities (ie. bus lanes, etc) - with up to 40% more bus passengers.
- More traffic enforcement including new regulations.
- Public off street parking will be more heavily regulated to discourage car use.
- Particular traffic bottlenecks may be tackled (but without a programme of new roads).
- Existing road improvement schemes including the North Circular, A40 Western Ave, A23 Coulsdon and A205 Catford (South Circular) are to be reconsidered and probably replaced by "reduced scale" schemes.
- Integrating car use with other forms of transport such as improving parking facilities at rail stations in outer London
Congestion Charging Scheme
The aim is to reduce traffic by 15% in Central London and this will be achieved by a congestion charging scheme. The charge will be £5 per day between 7.0 am to 7.0 pm Monday to Friday (excluding public holidays). The map below shows the extent of the scheme.
The net cost of this scheme over the first 2 years appears to be £130 million, but net revenue thereafter is about £200 million per annum. Although there was a commitment that public transport would be improved before such a scheme was introduced, it seems likely that the only improvement possible before then will be some extra buses.
Overall cost of the proposals
Spending is assumed to be £3 billion per year for the next couple of years, excluding the Underground, from existing government commitments, rising by an extra £500 million from 2004 (of which £200 million would come from the net revenue from the congestion charging scheme). The difference, £300 million, has yet to be found so that is what the mayor is asking for in addition.
What a lost opportunity! Although the document contains many useful proposals, it is ultimately weak. Mr Livingstone seems to have tried to please everyone, but unfortunately you can't re-bake the London transport infrastructure without breaking some eggs.
The proposals to tackle traffic congestion will not work, because:
a - There is no attempt to reform or make major improvements to the road network.
b - The congestion charging scheme is not aggressive enough to make any difference to traffic congestion in central London (there is sufficient "unsatisfied demand" for road use that it is very unlikely to have any effect - all it will likely do is replace poorer people by the richer folks who can afford £5 per day - a peculiar attempt at social engineering).
c - Adding more buses is unlikely to make them significantly more attractive to existing road or rail users.
d - Improvements to the rail and underground network will be a long time coming and are not major enhancements- they are unlikely to tackle the key problems of commuters.
The additional investment being made is relatively minor and will not make a major difference to London's transport quality. In essence this document proposes a lot of tactical approaches to the transport problems of London, but it is hardly a strategic, long-term vision of a better future.
The London Congestion Charging Scheme, published April 2002
Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London, has formally announced that the London congestion charging scheme is to go ahead. It will start on the 17th February 2003, or as soon thereafter as practical, bearing in mind that like most large IT projects, it is likely to run late.
Mayor Livingstone made the introduction of a congestion charging scheme an element of his election platform, but said it would not be introduced without the prior introduction of major improvements to public transport. However, the turn out at the mayoral election was very low, and Ken’s majority was not large so in practice only a small minority of Londoners actually voted for him. But it has been suggested by at least one politician that he hopes the congestion charging scheme will be such a success that he will get re-elected (hence the push for rapid implementation rather than delay matters with a public enquiry). Now that the details of the scheme are known, it seems worthwhile to review it in more depth. Refer to the Transport for London report to the mayor, details of the consultation exercise, and other background information. Herein is a brief exposition.
This article is illustrated with several pictures taken on a wet evening in the rush hour.
Trafalgar Square (North side)
The area covered by the scheme is mainly bounded by the existing “inner ring road” (see map in article above).. Traffic will still be able to use that road without charge. There will be cameras positioned at all entry roads to the area and also within the area, supported by wardens patrolling the zone to enforce payment. As you can see, the zone covers most of the city and west end, and covers many of the through routes that drivers from Bromley would use to get to the other side of London (one of the major problems that London has is that there are so few routes around the centre that many people choose to drive straight through).
The congestion charge of £5 will apply to most cars - there are only a few exceptions which are covered later - and will apply from 7 am to 6.30 pm, Monday to Friday only, excluding public holidays. Weekly, monthly and yearly “tickets” will be available but no extra discounts will be given for those. Payment will be by phone, internet, post or at retail outlets. (Editors Comment: The economics of collecting a £5 charge over the phone by say a credit card payment must be truly appalling).
The concept seems to be that you pay in advance by whichever method you choose. However, if you don’t pay in advance you can pay later in the day also. The system works by photographing your car number plate and matching it to a list of “paid” ones. If you aren’t in the list, and don’t pay up the same day, then you get sent a penalty notice for £80 using the DVLA records. If you pay the penalty within two weeks, it drops to £40, otherwise it rises to £120 for non-payment. Persistent non-payers can have their cars clamped or towed away within the zone, or bailiffs can be used to pursue you.
Charing Cross Road
What are the objectives of the scheme? These are oddly somewhat unclear, but the primary aim is apparently to reduce congestion for which there is strong public demand - in other words, to improve car journey times and journey reliability. So in reality, the people paying the penalty charge are paying for a faster journey time. However, every London resident is paying the capital cost of the scheme through their local taxes (although this may be recouped from income generated if the scheme is a success). The budget to set up the scheme is at least £200 million, including over £100 million of complementary traffic management measures to cope with the impact on the area immediately outside of the zone - clearly much traffic will divert to avoid the zone and hence worsen traffic on the inner ring road and surrounding roads.
It is interesting that organisations such as the C.B.I. support the scheme. Clearly, the businessman to whom £5 is a trivial amount will favour this reallocation of road space to the wealthy user.
What are the other benefits? Reduced air pollution or noise? Apparently not as regards pollution where no significant improvement in air quality is likely. Noise reduction is also not going to be significant. The major reason why these advantages will be negligible are because at the charge level chosen, there is only likely to be a reduction of between 10% and 15% in traffic volumes, so it will only reduce it to the level that exists during summer holidays. And even that may not last as the pressure of more cars, more business and more population in London and the South-East grows. In addition, a large proportion of air pollution is caused by buses, taxis and HGVs which will not be reduced - bus numbers will actually increase - see later. So if you thought that the congestion charging scheme was a “green” policy, then think again.
Traffic Volumes and Future Revenues
At present, about 40,000 vehicles an hour drive into the congestion charging zone between 7 am and 10 am, and there are about 250,000 vehicles in total that use the zone between 7 am and 7 pm. However of the 1.1 million people entering London in the morning peak period on a typical weekday (which incidentally is rising), only 13% travel by car.
The following table gives you the likely number of vehicles that will use the zone each day when the scheme is in operation, and the likely revenue to the GLA that will result.
Future Traffic Volumes and Income (p.a.)
Discounts and Exemptions
You can see there are a number of discounts. Residents who live within the zone only pay 10% of the charge. Taxis, and private hire vehicles (“minicabs”) are free of charge - yes you could possibly pretend to be a minicab to avoid it but you will have to register as such under the proposed future scheme for such vehicles and carry an appropriate plate.
Motorcycles are also free - not only because they create little congestion but because of the difficulty of photographing their number plates. Electric vehicles and some other low emission vehicles will also be exempt, as well as such public service vehicles as buses, fire tenders and ambulances, plus disabled (blue badge) holders.
There are however no exemptions for people who use private cars because of the difficulty of using public transport. For example, hospital nurses, doctors, police, fireman and others who work night shifts (they may arrive when the charge doesn’t apply but will depart when it does). Firemen in London stations have already raised strong objections, but to no avail. Obviously some employers may pay their workers extra to cover the cost, but it seems unlikely that major public employers will do so. There are also very tight restrictions on exemptions for hospital patients.
Note also that all vans and HGVs will pay the standard charge and this is likely to increase the cost of doing business within the zone considerably. John Lewis in Oxford Street have calculated that it will cost them several hundred thousand pounds a year extra. These costs are likely to be passed on to consumers, although there may be some offsetting cost reductions from reduced journey times.
Public Transport Improvements
What are the promised improvements in public transport? There is no possibility of any improvements to the London underground for some years, particularly as the Mayor and the government are still arguing about control and funding. Likewise overground trains are at the limit of their capacity. So the only change is going to be another 200 buses. It is not clear where these will be added, but presumably mainly on existing routes. Three quarters of the additional public transport users of 20,000 people during peak periods are assumed to transfer to buses. (Editors Comment: It is not at all obvious how more buses on inner London routes will enable many existing drivers to abandon their cars. Our former next door neighbour in Bromley used to drive into the City every day, and I also know someone who used to regularly drive to near Tower Bridge from south of Tonbridge - neither would find bus services a practical alternative.)
Will the buses be improved? One of the major reasons why bus usage has actually been falling in recent years is their poor standard with patchy heating, no air conditioning, dirty interiors, cramped seats, unreliable service times, slow journey times, crime and vandalism, etc. In fact, at present less than 10% of people entering London by public transport do so by bus or coach for those very reasons!
There are some initiatives promised here, which are as follows:
Bus journey times might also improve as a result of the reduced congestion of course.
Scheme Practicality and Enforcement
How effective will be the charging and enforcement process? Well there have been some tests performed on automatic number plate recognition and the figure was over 95%. It is therefore the case that people are likely to pass more than one camera when travelling through the zone, it is expected that over 99% will be picked up. This level of recognition is certainly sufficient for a workable scheme. (Editors Comment: No doubt the vendors of “unreadable” number plates will be doing good business in future though).
However, you also have to take into account that a significant number of London drivers are unlicensed (there tend to be regular campaigns to tackle this problem, but to no lasting effect as it sooner or later it drifts down the list of police priorities). At present the police estimate that about 10% are unlicensed, but others have estimated it could be as high as 20% in some inner London boroughs. Also there will be a major financial incentive in future - after all you could save £1,300 per annum by going unlicensed.
There is also the problem of foreign registered vehicles being effectively unchargeable, so it is likely that this will be another common avoidance procedure. Think you could get your friend who lives in central London to register your vehicle and claim the 90% residents discount? Only if they don’t already have a car as only one registration per resident will be eligible for a discount.
And one final possible problem - there is currently an appeal to the European Court being made by someone caught by a speed camera on the grounds that he should have the right not to incriminate himself by saying who the driver was when asked.. If his complaint was upheld then enforcement of the penalty fines would be impossible.
The only certain and legal way to avoid paying for car drivers is probably to acquire an electric or other “alternative fuel” vehicle (exactly what will qualify in that regard is not yet clear).
There is also the general issue of the possible invasion of privacy by having cameras monitoring every vehicle which travels into the city. Many people have expressed concern about this, as it seems that the police will have access to the records contained in the new computer systems. Potentially they could track everyone who drives into London. This is already the case though in the “ring of steel” around the City of London that was introduced to counter the Irish terrorist threat - that may be a justifiable reason for an invasion of people’s privacy, but does the desire for some people to have faster journey times justify it? The Mayor and his advisors believe there is no prospective breach of possible law here though.
The GLA held two public meetings in Central London on the congestion charging scheme in September 2001. All of 54 and 62 people attended respectively. (Editors Comment: There was no obvious publicity of these meetings as I certainly didn’t hear about them). However there was considerable press coverage and information on the GLA web site. Details of the scheme were sent to 500 “stakeholders” (i.e. organisations such as local councils) of which 149 responded. There were also 232 submissions from other organisations (BBRAG would have been one), plus 1893 representations from individuals. The breakdown of responses was as follows.
Public Consultation Results
Clearly from the above figures, the public and most “other” organisations were opposed to the proposal. So why was their opposition disregarded. I’ll quote from the report: “It is likely that these respondents will tend to hold particularly strong opinions, and will be skewed towards those who oppose the proposed scheme.” (Editor’s Comment: Maybe that line should be remembered by all politicians who aspire to high office, as a way to rubbish any opposition to their proposals).
Of course, to treat responses that could have been very extensive as being simply in favour or not in favour is simplistic. Many people may be in favour in principle, but don’t think it will work in practice. There has been no attempt to survey the general population of London as to their views on the matter, and the suggestion to hold a public enquiry has been rejected by the Mayor. Neither have people outside of London who may sometimes drive into the centre been consulted. However it is known from a recent N.O.P. opinion poll that 67% of people in the UK are opposed to the general principle of road charging.
Other Adverse Scheme Effects
One particular problem with the scheme is the imposition of a single boundary to the charging zone. This will create major congestion in areas adjacent to the boundary, from people trying to avoid the zone. In effect, congestion within the zone will be moved to affect other people. In fact congestion may now start to affect more residential areas when the charging zone is primarily occupied by businesses.
The report to the mayor suggests that with the new traffic management schemes in place that peripheral roads will be able to cope, but this seems somewhat doubtful. Also it seems quite likely that jams around the periphery will actually make it quite difficult to enter the central zone even if that is relatively empty. Computerised traffic models have been used to simulate likely traffic flows but these are known to be subject to major errors when compared with reality. Also extensive work to increase capacity of the inner ring road (eg. such roads as Marylebone Road) by such means as changing traffic signal phasing, and enhancements to the approaches to Tower Bridge, are assumed to be effective.
Another problem is that there will be many people who live just outside the zone, who currently frequently enter it, who will in future find it costly to do so. This will affect people’s personal lives considerably, but will also affect shops and other small businesses that they visit within the zone. Westminster City Council (the zone splits that borough) are strongly opposed to the scheme and have threatened legal action, possibly on the grounds of inadequate consultation, but it is unclear whether they have a good, legal case.
Will It Work?
As Jenny Jones, Green Party GLA Member and supporter of the scheme, said at a recent public meeting “who knows?”. Many people feel that the charge of £5 will not be sufficient to deter enough car drivers to reduce congestion significantly. After all many already have to pay £20 per day to park in central London. If a few poorer people are deterred, then the untapped demand from wealthier folks who are currently deterred by the traffic jams, will soon absorb the new free road space. Note that the Mayor has the ability to vary the scheme terms, so he may well increase the daily charge at a later date, rather than abandon the scheme.
Have Such Schemes Worked Elsewhere?
Singapore is usually quoted as an example of where a congestion charging scheme is effective in keeping traffic moving. However technically this scheme is very different. It does not have a fixed charge over a wide area, but a charge that varies by the route used and the time of day. It is easy to use it to tackle particular congestion “black spots”. Charges are paid by electronic metering - every car user has to have an installed meter, and not by number plate recognition. Of course Singaporean citizens are typically more law abiding and accept state control of their personal lives more easily than the typical Englishman. They also have much more regulation of motor vehicles generally - you need to get approval to even own a vehicle and the number of vehicles on the roads is artificially limited. The problem of enforcement in a country which is only a few miles wide is also very different.
Norway also has some towns with congestion charging schemes in the centre, but these were introduced specifically to pay for new road construction. Norway has particular problems with building new roads because of the mountainous landscape, and the size of the cities in Norway is very different to London.
The Costs of the Scheme
The gross revenue from the scheme (assuming the charge of £5 is in effect) is £257 million per annum - see table above for who pays it. The net revenue, after costs, was originally estimated to be £200 million but is now budgeted to be nearer £130 million per annum. This money will be used solely to fund improvements in public transport - at least for the first ten years, and subject to government approval of expenditure proposals.
The total operating costs of the scheme over 10 years (including initial start-up costs) are £1.2 billion in cash terms (or more like £1.3 billion in reality as they omitted some of the costs of associated traffic management improvements on the basis that they would be required anyway sooner or later).
There are some compensating benefits such as an increase in revenue from public transport, offset by reductions in parking revenues, reduction in fuel taxes and other minor impacts but these are all relatively minor in comparison to the revenue and costs of the scheme itself.
Many people have complained that the scheme is simply a way of taxing motorists, and if you look at it in that way, then it is a very inefficient way of raising revenue. About 50% of the income from the scheme is wasted on operating and enforcement costs, and that ignores the costs and inconvenience to the public of having to pay the charges. The net revenue produced is also a drop in the ocean in comparison with the funds needed to rejuvenate public transport in London - a net contribution of £130 million per annum is a very small fraction of the overall public expenditure on transport in the London area.
The report to the Mayor also attempts to do a social cost-benefit analysis, by putting a value on such matters as journey times saved, the time consumed by drivers in paying the charges and the “disbenefit” of people who are inconvenienced by having to switch to public transport (the latter is valued at £20million p.a.). Their analysis suggests there is an overall benefit. However, consider the following statement in the report: “In general terms most of those who pay the standard charge will be losers - they will be unlikely to experience reduced congestion sufficient to offset the financial loss of the charge.”.
What Happens If the Scheme Is Abandoned?
One interesting issue is what happens if the scheme does not work - and as pointed out above there are certainly a lot of doubt about whether it will in practice be effective. How much of the initial expenditure would be wasted, and what will be the cost to the taxpayers of London if the scheme is abandoned after a couple of years? Unfortunately the report does not make this at all clear.
The main contractors for the scheme are Capita (for the IT systems) and Colt plus BT for the telecommunications network. These have major capital costs (for example about 250 cameras with dual dedicated data links have to be installed around the periphery of the zone), but these capital costs are not identified separately and it appears as though the contractors are spreading these costs over the life of the contract of ten years. No details of the contract terms are given in the report to the Mayor.
It therefore seems likely that if the congestion charging scheme was abandoned after a year or two, then at least several hundred millions of costs would be paid out in settlement of early termination and penalty costs. In the worst case, the taxpayers of London (including residents of Bromley of course as the GLA precept funds Transport for London) could end up paying out half a billion pounds for no benefits - that’s probably about £100 per household. Do you really want the Mayor to risk £100 of your money on this project? (Editors Comment: I have asked for further information on this subject from TfL but at the time of writing, they have not yet responded).
Can the Scheme Be Stopped?
Apart from the threat of possible legal action, the only way the scheme is likely to be halted is by government intervention. They could block implementation of the scheme by refusing to approve the spending plans for the revenue to be raised. Therefore it is suggested that if you oppose this scheme you write to your Member of Parliament.