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News round-up - January 2024

 

TfL funding 2024/5

 

The Ministerial code directs that important announcements should be made firstly to Parliament. The apologies that regularly follow the breach of this convention have all the conviction of those that follow an announcement that ‘the driver has been instructed to wait at this stop to regulate the profits’ (or something like that).

 

So it was that the Autumn statement was devoid of any news about funding a capital programme for TfL. Following the Christmas recess, the government announced that £250m would be provided in 2024/5.

 

This funding will enable TfL to complete the payment on the Piccadilly line trains which were ordered before the pandemic, have all been built (elsewhere in the UK) and are currently being tested.  It will not pay for the signaling upgrade, which would optimise their worth and produce a significant capacity increase at a fraction of the cost of mega-schemes that take decades to gain authorization. It will not pay for an extension of the Bakerloo line, which again would sweat the assets of the existing line, or for new rolling stock on that line. The trains are so old they were built when passenger comfort was still a consideration.

 

Despite warm words about growing the economy once inflation is out of the way, there is little sign of action. The government appears tired, even to some of its supporters. Even the New Year’s honours list looked tired, with more retreads (people receiving a second gong in addition to one already awarded) than ever before.

 

Revenue continues to improve. Despite the much publicised problems on the Elizabeth line (mostly in the sections run by Network Rail), passenger numbers continue to rise and now exceed pre-pandemic levels at weekends. However, the TfL draft budget continues to threaten reduced expenditure on buses which can only fail to narrow the gap between inner and outer London when it comes to access to public transport. And although a general election is likely in 2024, there seems little hope of a transformation in infrastructure spending whatever the result.


More roads at 20

 

After holding out against reducing its main road network to 20mph to match those of many of the boroughs through which the roads run, TFL are now catching up. In 2022 all the roads in the Congestion Charge Zone were capped at 20 and this was then expanded to roads in Enfield, Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Croydon making the total mileage to 40.

 

A further 47 miles have now been designated, covering roads in Bromley, Greenwich, Kensington and Chelsea, Lambeth, Lewisham, Merton, Southwark and Wandsworth. Signage should be in place by December.

 

TfL’s statistics demonstrate that 20 mph speed limits have a positive effect on road casualties. According to data collected in the central London congestion zone area from May 2020 to June 2022, the number of crashes fell by 25 per cent and the number of collisions resulting in death or serious injury decreased by 24 per cent

compared with before the limits were introduced, although this has to be put in the context of a 10% London-wide reduction in collisions resulting in death or serious injury over the same period.


Oxford Street revamp

 

The Mayor’s plans to pedestrianise Oxford Street which were vehemently opposed by the City of Westminster have finally been put to rest by the City’s new Labour administration which proposes a watered down version of the plan. The focus is on improving the street for pedestrians with wider pavements, wider pedestrian crossings, longer green signals for pedestrian crossings and more frequent formal crossing points. There will also be a clamp-down on street clutter including street traders.

 

To assist pedestrian flow at Oxford Circus there will be a ban on turning traffic. The effect of this on bus routes has not yet been publicised.

 

Safer buses

 

TfL has published its Bus Safety Strategy outlining specific actions to be taken to achieve the Mayor’s Vision Zero goals for the bus network.

 

The first area to be addressed is speed. Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA) has been fitted to all new buses since 2021. Geofencing ensures that buses cannot exceed the speed limit. Kerri Cheek, TfL Senior Bus Safety Development Manager, says: ‘If the bus is only doing the speed limit, all of the other features we’re putting on the bus will work better because they work much better at lower speeds than they do at higher speeds’. As a bonus, buses obeying the speed limit also slow traffic behind them. Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) is also coming on new buses from next year. This will operate to warn drivers of the very close presence of other road users although automatic braking although this technology needs to be refined if it leads to sudden braking impacting passengers.

 

The silence of electric buses is an issue which presents dangers to road users particularly those who are blind or partially sighted. To combat this TfL have developed their Acoustic Vehicle Alerting System (AVAS) to produce a sound which is unique to TfL buses.

 

Thought has been given to the shape of the front of the bus to reduce the risk of serious harm in the event of a collision. Although 50 per cent of fatalities and serious injuries involving buses are pedestrians, bus occupants account for 17 per cent so interior design features such as bevelled edges on the stairs and foam protection bars are being installed.

 

Silvertown delayed.

 

The target opening date for Silvertown Tunnel has slipped towards September 2025 and the estimated final cost has increased from £173 million to £179 million. Separately, the cost of associated bus infrastructure improvements will require another £2.7 million which has not yet been budgeted for. Contracts for the bus services, including routes 129 and Superloop 4 were awarded to Go-Ahead London, include a commitment that all the buses on these routes will be zero emissions from the start of operation. The consultation on TfL’s proposal to set up a shuttlebus service for cyclists through both the Silvertown and Blackwall tunnels closed on 10th September.


Parcels by rail

 

There is a growing trend by road hauliers to establish consolidation centres in large cities to handle the rising quantity of small items generated in response to internet orders. Ideally these items are then delivered by electric vehicles or cargo bikes, thus limiting carbon emissions. This has led distribution firms to consider the use of rail for this traffic, using major city centre stations at night when there is little passenger traffic. Initially two firms, Orion High Speed Logistics and Swift Express Freight, proposed routes from the Midlands to Scotland.

 

There is now a possibility that the idea is moving to London. Cross River Partnership proposes using undercroft space at Waterloo where small freight items can be consolidated and transported onwards by zero-emission vehicles.

 

Brent Cross West open

 

Local residents were shown around the gleaming new Brent Cross West Thameslink station a couple of weeks before it opened to the public on 10th December.

 

There are now eight trains per hour each way stopping there, and a 24-hour-access footbridge across the tracks, useable without having to pass through the gateline. The station has passive provision for the planned West London Orbital line as well.

 

The station is to serve a major new development but, for now, it is on the edge of a building site. Like Barking Riverside, the public transport provision comes before the passengers, suggesting that those who come to live there can thrive without the need for a car.

 

Teaming up with Just Space

 

Through contact with the London-wide community planning group called Just Space, we have teamed up with students from the UCL Bartlett School of Planning to develop understanding of two projects affecting London’s transport infrastructure. They are the development around the Old Oak Common HS2 station and the proposal to turn a section of railway line around Camden Road into a linear park on the model of the New York High Line. FTL is concerned that decisions in both areas would have an adverse effect on transport infrastructure. The work of the students could throw valuable light on the viability of the projects, and we await their involvement with interest.

 

Just Space is an informal alliance of around 80 community groups, campaigns and concerned independent organisations which was formed to act as a voice for Londoners at grass-roots level during the formulation of London’s major planning strategy, particularly the London Plan. They have been collaborating for many years with The Bartlett School of Planning, enabling students to develop knowledge and support community groups across London with local planning issues.

 

Free public transport in London

 

Initiatives to make public transport free are growing around Europe. Local transport is free in Tallinn, Estonia, and in the whole of the country of Luxembourg. Even in the UK free city centre buses operate in some cities.

 

A proposal to make all public transport free in London has been put forward by Stop the Silvertown Tunnel Coalition. They argue that this could contribute to improving air quality and combatting the climate crisis by making bus travel more attractive and help households struggling with the cost of living. They point out that ‘national government policy has undermined public transport and active travel for many years by supporting road traffic with subsidies and undermining rail and bus services in line with privatisation dogma’.

 

The issue of how to pay for it is of course crucial. TfL fares bring in £4.3bn per year which is a far greater proportion of total income than comparable urban transport systems around the world. This could be made up by such actions as a road user charge (which itself could bring in about £4bn according to Prof Stephen Glaister of Imperial College), but also land value capture (for example through the Community Infrastructure Levy which was used to fund the Elizabeth Line), an increase in fuel duty and a workplace parking levy (as funds the Nottingham tram system).

 

Stop the Silvertown Tunnel Coalition hopes to win support from a wide range of community groups, transport workers’ unions, researchers of climate, air pollution and transport policy, politicians and local government, in order to lobby the Mayor and the GLA.

 

Stop the Silvertown Tunnel Coalition is organising a meeting to discuss the proposal on 24th February in Central London. Email stopsilvertowntn@gmail.com for more information.

 


Electric boats for the Thames


A report by the Port of London Authority proposes three new ferry crossings of the Thames which, they say, would be about a third of the cost of building bridges and could be delivered in a fraction of the time. The ferries would be powered by electricity.

 

Robin Mortimer, PLA Chief Executive, said: ‘The Thames has shaped London’s history for centuries and is key to its net zero future too. Based upon the experience of Auckland and Amsterdam, this report shows that the river can help create an affordable, low-carbon way of tackling transport inequity in east London’.

 

The routes proposed, all linked to major development areas are: Canary Wharf to North Greenwich, the Royal Docks to Charlton, and Barking Riverside to Thamesmead.

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