Congestion Charging: First step in the London Plan

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Topic: Ken Livingstone’s Congestion Charging: First step in the London Plan

Panel: Nicky Gavron: Deputy Mayor and Co-author of the London Plan
Richard Rawes: Environmental Services Director, Merton
John Stewart: Vice Chair, Transport 2000
Christian Wolmar: Journalist, Author and Broadcaster

Chair: John Ellison: Chair, Transport Forum

Attendance: 96 people + panel + chair = 101 people

Q1: With the forthcoming launch of the Congestion Charging scheme are the panel concerned about the widespread forecasts of chaos and how many extra buses, tubes and trains will there be for commuters?

JS: I think that there will be concern in the early weeks that there will be chaos. There are extra buses being put on and routes are being rejigged, but the tubes are already overcrowded. I’ve got to state that over the longer-term congestion charging is inevitable in central London. If anyone is in London at any time of the day you are better of walking. It is difficult for business and slowing down emergency services. I think that Ken Livingstone is right but the Government is sitting on the sidelines, he takes the risk if it fails.

CW: I’m sure that the campaign against congestion charging will intensify in the last few weeks, but the politics have been played down. It has allowed the media to play it up with the Times and the Evening Standard being extremely hostile: adding to the feeling that there will be chaos. I don’t see the chaos except in the warehouse near Brick Lane where the HQ of the computer is. I can’t see that vast numbers of people will do a U turn at the Euston Road or the Elephant and Castle. I except that lots of people will get away with it in the first few weeks. The number of cars that go in to central London is not an enormous amount. There will be a lot of fuss. Like JS, I think that the scheme is very brave, but it should have been piloted in a smaller town, say, Norwich or Chester: Durham has one street and there is a 90% reduction in usage. I think it is a great shame that the Government hasn’t got behind this and put it in another city first. I think that we have to wish the scheme well.

RR: I am in danger of agreeing with the other panellists: we charge for other scarce resources. You then have choices with this scheme. I think that people will be partly deterred by the charge but it is quite low. I think that it is a brave thing to do.

NG: I do support congestion charging in principle, it’s right for Ken in his first term. If I was mayor I would have gone for new technology. However, we are going into a crude but tried and tested system. I would have set out a much broader, and improved public strategy in the short term on how we should have improved public transport first. The mayor has done a remarkable job in improved take up on the bus. There are 11,000 extra spaces on the buses coming on stream for February 17th when congestion charging begins. We have the tube but we can’t do a lot about that.

In terms of the detail, there is a lot and the devil is in it. We are dealing with something that has not been done before; there will be problems but not ones that can’t be ironed out. Unless there is a glitch with the computer system when I would advise the mayor to abandon it, I don’t know what the chaos could be.

JE: What is the government’s attitude?

NG: I think that the Government wants congestion charging to work: they have put an awful lot of money in the scheme. The Greater London act wills the end and not the means. It is up to local authorities across the country to implement it but the Government doesn’t have control at the detailed level.

Floor: The tube is chaos. All the answers so far are in the short term. What is plan B if this doesn’t work or are all the eggs in one basket?

NG: The mayor doesn’t have a plan B. If there is major glitch then we will have to shut it down. It’s all about a shift in behaviour: 20% of journeys in London are under 0.25 mile. Harringey have a web site on lift share. 12,000 hits in a very short space in time. Multi occupancy car use is in place in Leeds where there are separate lanes for this traffic.

JS: If everyone travelling in migrates to the tube, then there will be real problems. Historically, people don’t move from cars to buses but some people will move from tube to bus, freeing up space for people to move from cars to the tube. What will begin to happen is that people will use their imagination and there will be a huge rise in bikes and scooters and perhaps one or two on bicycles.

CW: What worries me is that there won’t be much effect. Most people who have to drive in are tradesmen who will cough up or they are rich, or they will put funny things on their number plates. I have a car (I mainly bike) but have only driven in to central London outside the congestion charging times for the last 25 years or so. I’m afraid that the scheme just means lots of money for Ken Livingstone.

Floor: There was an amnesty in Milan when a scheme was introduced there for the first two weeks.

NG: There was a piece on this in the Guardian. I believe there should be an amnesty here for 6 weeks.

Floor: I’m a technician working on links to the DVLA for the congestion charging scheme and see no problems. It will work well.

At the moment, we are tackling the effect and not the cause. We still try to shift to many people in Central London. Now we don’t need messengers rushing around as we have phones, faxes, etc. but we are still building more and more office buildings in central London

Going back 50 years, used to get cheap ticket before 6:30am or 7:00am, I’m amazed that this isn’t been done to spread demand

CW: The c2c railway company running services from Essex to Fenchurch St actually do that.

NG: Decentralising: The London plan is looking at the growth in London and that we will absorb a city the size of Leeds (700,000) and the population will go back up to 8 Million, the same as just after the second world war. Six sets of econometricians contributed and all are saying is that 75% of the growth in jobs is going to be in Financial and Business Services. These are concentrated in a band from Heathrow through central London to Docklands and we are extending it Eastwards. We think that the back office functions will go to outlying areas like Kingston and Barnet.

RR: I think that Merton is strong in this respect in that we have the most people who come here to work in the evening. For this to work we need to strengthen transport links, e.g., Wimbledon to Croydon Tramlink: 44% of these people use it to go to work. Encourage people to move from car, 16% were car drivers and 3% car passengers, therefore, 19% reduction and it is encouraging employment in an area like Merton. And for that employment to be near existing transport facilities. That is the big perception that we have on the London Plan: the lack of additional transport is a concern.

Q2: Given the widespread concerns that public transport will not be able to cope with the increase in transport due to congestion charging and that the aim is to increase cycling by three times, should there be more emphasis on cycling?

JS: I was speaking six months ago in Havering, very much an outer London borough. Many commuters drove to the station or right into central London. The crucial thing was was there another way of driving to the station. No way would these business people take a bus, because the perception was that they were unreliable and that they did not have control over their journey but what they were interested in was cycling in to the station, because they had control. I think that the bicycle has an important role, initially shorter journeys and then perhaps longer ones. People need to be safe: there should be a mix of cycle lanes and lower speeds, and that when they come home the bicycles will still be there!

NG: There is encouragement for bicycles, and there has been lots of money given to Merton.

RR: There is a lot of money being given to Merton by TfL specifically for using Wimbledon Station as a hub as well as improvements for through routes: a report went to committee last (sic) week.

CW: I’ve been cycling around London for 35 years. I am a member of the national cycling strategy board and to meet the target of trebling cycling over the next 10 years will be a very difficult battle to win. The main battle is cultural. When I started there wasn’t a single cycle lane, apart from the one next to the Great West Road, and that was soon closed. There are more cyclists in London although nationally there is a decrease but in Copenhagen there is a massive increase. Buses there have big platforms, for double buggies and bikes. Bikes are marked on doors of buses and trains.

NG: There are perception problems. For instance the local boroughs put up signs at crossings and they say ‘cyclists dismount’. No cyclist is ever going to dismount. It is like saying to people that they should get out of their cars and push them. Some cycling groups campaign for showers and lockers with their employer. This is giving the wrong impression because after a few weeks most people won’t get a sweat.

Floor: When are the cycle racks going into City Hall? as I cycle there and there are no racks. Response: There will be soon (Merton Cycle Campaign).

Biggest reason that people won’t cycle is safety: the little cycle lanes on the edge of the road and the cyclist have to swerve out into middle of the road as they are clogged up with parked cars. Please do something about this RR. The report referred to is that cycling is the most dangerous form of transport.

CW: The BMA did a survey that proved that cyclists live longer, maybe have a risk when cycling but it is a risk worse taking. The more cycling you have the safer it will be.

Floor: In Merton you have one of the first cycle tracks in St. Helier up to Rose Hill dating from 1932 and I haven’t been able to use since 1948 because of parked cars.

NG: What about segregated cycle lanes.

RR: Yes, there is a segregated one in Raynes Park: it was an early one. Based on a survey. Will take up St Helier with TfL. People are concerned about safety and cycling and the levels of congestion. Green markings are there to assist. There are a lot of design considerations and some areas are difficult to get a cycle lane all the way through. Enforcement is one point.

Floor: What about the negative impact on bus users in Wimbledon town centre: this wasn’t even mentioned in the report that went to Merton committee this week?

RR: There will be consultation. Nothing will be done without a full understanding of the consequences of the decisions made.

NG: I don’t think that we are being radical enough at all. I think that there should be public transport streets. Somehow we should create the advantages of a grid system. Croydon Tramlink cost £200 Million, and love to have extensions. However, guided buses also have their own tracks, far more cost effective but not as sexy. And cars, not just one person per car. Congestion charging alone will not do it; we have to be more radical.

Floor: Any benefits from congestion charging, not see any breakdown of benefits. What is it going to be spent on? Not much on the tube: delays are up 15 minutes.

NG: The benefits will be £130 Million in the first year and we will know where it will be spent from what the mayor is going to say when the congestion charge is being launched. Traffic is static in inner and central London and going up considerably in outer London. He plays his cards close to his chest and the latest he’s said on this I've read in a newspaper. He’s going to spend it on road safety, and on buses. Business wants it on road maintenance. The Government has reduced the TfL grant by over £125 Mio over the next two years. It doesn’t work if half our money is taken away due to income from congestion charging.

Likewise on the tube, Bob Kiley has found a very good manager to run the tube. But if we are going to run the tube then we have the money to run it. Once investment goes in then capacity will have to go down for a while whist work is carried out. I think that it is important that we get on with running the tube. But if there is an appeal then it will not be but there will be a funding shortfall. After 2006 we need a letter of comfort as the level of subsidy goes down dramatically.

Q3: Merton Council is pledged to pushing forward the existing Tramlink and the East London Line. Neither of these issues are promoted much in Ken's London Plan, but there is a massive increase in housing development. Is Ken playing politics or is Merton’s message not getting through.

RR: It is a very visionary plan. Most of it is in jobs in central and east London. In Merton the requirement is 6,800 new homes by 2016: that’s over 400 a year. Densification around Colliers Wood and Wandle Valley. Tube arguments don’t impact beyond Wimbledon, therefore, Tramlink is important. One plan is taking the Wimbledon Tramlink to Sutton by ranching off at Morden and down St. Helier Ave. A Sutton branch would extend through the centre of Mitcham and on to Tooting Broadway. The benefits achieved from Wimbledon to Croydon could be the same here. There will be a decision this Spring and we’ve passed the first hurdle. I’m disappointed that there’s not a great mention in the London plan. The mayor is not in control of the overall funding, e.g. Thameslink 2000, will now be beyond 2008 and the ELL is being put back. Crossrail 2 (the old Wimbledon to Hackney line) is also being put back. There is the London Metro idea, the idea of increasing frequency on train times to 10 minute frequency then people can just turn up and go like Tramlink: without needing to look at a timetable.

JE: Who is going to decide.

RR: Overall it is a decision for TfL with the operators and we want to make it work.

NG: I will do everything I can to back the Tramlink extension. There is a misunderstanding on the plan about what it is do to. It is an overarching plan for the next 15 years and there will be regional frameworks within the sub regions. The London Plan is the plan of plans and the transport plan should have been done after it. There will be a specific transport plan in March and set out in much more detail what flows from the London Plan. There is not a good enough vision in the London Plan on transport in outer London: not a proper integrated vision.

JS: I’m glad to hear what NG has been saying. I’m most concerned about the emphasis on central London and lack of emphasis on outer London. This is where the traffic problems are going to be. The greatest problem is in orbital journeys across south and north London. Whilst I understand some of the arguments on job growth in central London, if too much money is spent here, then there may not be much money left for the transport goodies in outer London. Crossrail is very expensive and unless it is done privately, then will there be enough money left.

CW: It really worries me that Crossrail is stymied again. And we can have a few on the go at the same time. The tram links that Ken Livingstone has put forward and the Strategic Rail Authority has scrapped the funding programme for improving stations and bicycle facilities and that is the climate that RR will have to operate in. I do not think that Ken Livingstone is playing politics and despite what the Government is trying to pretend in reality investment is being cut back.

Floor: Of course, there are the lightweight trams that Danny Brunt proposed a few meetings ago.

Danny Brunt: This is an orbital mini tramway (Wandle Valley Light Railway) linking Morden, Mitcham and Colliers Wood (Abbey Mills) and a second one linking Raynes Park and Wimbledon. We were late tonight as a tram was vandalised. This is not a problem with my system as they can be pushed around to depot by a following tram. The cost is £80 Million with a depot at Mitcham on derelict land. It is a people shifter with a frequency of every two minutes. Each unit has the capacity of a double-decker bus.

RR: There have been discussions with Merton Council

Floor: Additional modes are fine, like to see more competition. People are buying more cars than ever. We spend £35 billion in tax on petrol, etc. Transport means transport not just public transport.

Q4: Traffic lights that stay at red longer and at green for very much less time are just some of the things that indicate that Ken Livingstone is committed to a war against the motorist. Or are the lights going to be reversed after congestion charges are introduced to prove to everyone that the congestion charge scheme is working?

NG: I’ve sat in many a meeting on this traffic light problem (with Derek Turner, LU) and especially because of Trafalgar Square, Shoreditch and Vauxhall Cross. However, this doesn’t account for all of them. There is a cycle for each set of traffic lights. What he has done is take the phase for the pedestrians that used to be 13 or 19 seconds and taken time from the motorist. I cut my campaigning teeth on a junction at Archway to have an all red phase. All accident statistics are worse where there are not all red phases. At Wood Green there were bad accidents and got them changed. However, at the next junction still haven’t managed to change them. The crossing phase is 18 seconds and a man got killed. We got longer times for pedestrians and then don’t understand why don’t we have a decent phase for the motorist. But Derek Turner states that people will jaywalk and people won't wait. However, in other cities people learn to be patient and that there is a balance.

Floor: In Paris, on green, cars don’t stop. What about flashing amber lights.

JS: Gives a whole new meaning to Red Ken. We did a study of pedestrian phases in Lambeth. The phase for pedestrians is very small and older people were very deterred from crossing. On the car, your figures are absolutely right. In London, we essentially do need to reduce the number of cars on the road. Secondly there is the potential for doing this in London. We still have rail bus and underground networks that are intact. Compared to many cities outside London there aren’t these comprehensive networks there any more. It is possible by energising the networks we have already got. I don’t advocate building more roads around London. Ultimate aim is to reduce the need to travel. Therefore, more people living nearer where they work and socialise.

RR: I agree that reducing the need for travel and increasing the mix in a given area. Merton is linked to central London, 80% of people going in are there to work: a small change will have a big impact.

CW: There isn’t any truth (article in New Statesman) in Ken Livingston trying to make it look good but the three schemes were being got in to get them in and out of the way. I take these on trust and as they were planned anyway. The Evening Standard never managed to get any evidence for its assertion neither could the Tory group on the GLA.

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