- The London economy is growing in a very employment intensive way and will create half a million additional jobs in the next 15 years
- Because salaries are squeezed while costs of essentials continue to rise, disposable incomes are going to become an increasing problem for Londoners
- Transport for London has done a great job at providing public transport to meet Londoners rapid growth in travel in the past
- But this has been done at a cost – a huge rise in transport costs and a badly managed road system, where priority has been given to buses at the expense of everyone else
- Transport for London’s imaginative investment plan for public transport needs to be supplemented by an equally imaginative plan for underground roads
- This cannot be managed by the same body that is responsible for the buses and so a new roads authority needs to be created, with the responsibility for an ideology free improvement in road use and investment in new underground roads
London needs to reorganise its transport organisation says Professor Douglas McWilliams, Gresham Professor of Commerce in his latest public lecture given today at 6pm in the Museum of London.
In the lecture ‘Sorting Out London Transport’ Professor McWilliams praises Transport for London (TfL) for its past success in expanding the provision of public transport in London. And while he criticises its past record on cost, he is complimentary about its present plans for cost reduction and argues that these plans need to be continued beyond the currnet 5 year planning horizon. He also supports TfL’s imaginative proposals for improved investment in bus and rail infrastructure and supports these plans.
But he argues that part of the cost of past transport managing has been excessive costs – pointing out that the cost of London buses has doubled over 10 years in real terms and that fares on the Underground are about double the international norm.
He also points out that London’s road system has been mismanaged so that congestion has grown and traffic speeds have reduced even while the number of vehicles on the road has diminished – in the case of Central London by about 20% in a decade. The average vehicle in London spends 66 hours a year idling.
He proposes a new London roads authority with responsibilities for investing in new underground roads where economic and feasible and for maximising the utilisation of the existing road system.
He comments ‘Because London’s road system is one of the oldest in the world, when traffic congestion became endemic the Victorians and Edwardians were innovative and built the world’s first underground railway system.
‘Today we need to match this with an underground road system. This would enable some road transport to be removed from the surface and reduce congestion, freeing up space for buses and cycles and would enable traffic to move more freely.’
The full package of proposals put forward by Professor McWilliams in his lecture is:
- A separation of the powers of TfL from running the road system and providing the bus services.
- A new authority needs to be set up to run the roads. This must be tasked with the priority of keeping the traffic moving, making good use of bus lanes, managing the cycling strategy (with some better ideas than simply creating a cycle lane on the Westway), building underground roads (when they are both possible and economic) and regulating demand through congestion charging.
- Building a system of privately financed underground roads and the new authority should move quickly to start creating an underground road system like the Victorians became innovative to create underground railways.
- Segregating cyclists away from London’s arterial roads to improve speeds and to stop the tragedy of cycling deaths. This can only be done through the provision of better cycle lanes.
- The new body should also regulate London’s roadworks and ensure that those who block London’s road system for unnecessarily long are heavily fined. The same system could be used to ensure that there is a strong financial incentive for one utility to use the roadworks of another’s to do any necessary maintenance. Construction work that affects road usage should also be monitored. It may eventually be possible to organise timed movements for heavy lorries for construction sites as is already the case in Canary Wharf.
- Building on TfL’s past success and support its continuing programme. Currently TfL has a programme for cost reductions building up to savings of about £2 billion a year by 2017/18. This programme needs to keep going for another 10 years at least as it incorporates innovations such as driverless trains.
- Increased volumes and loading factors should enable fares to be reduced in real terms.
- Meanwhile, there is an extensive programme of new investments for rail and underground that is required. CrossRail 2, which is the latest name for what used to be the Chelsea Hackney line is a priority as is (on an even earlier timescale) the Northern Line extension.
- On the road network, some rationing by price will be necessary. Economic congestion charging should be the quid pro quo for giving motorists more control over the roads that they have already paid for.
- And these charges should accurately reflect the economic costs of different modes of transport and their contribution to congestion. Receipts from such charging should not in general be available to subsidise other modes of transport from those generating the charges.
Professor McWilliams has modelled the results of his package of proposed measures using Cebr’s London travel model and Cebr’s London economy model.
He concludes that the package could eventually lead to benefits in higher disposable incomes and reduced costs of nearly £4,000 per household. And that, he concludes, is worth having.