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News Round-up - September 2023


The legal challenge against the extension of the Ultra Low Emission Zone by the boroughs of Bexley, Bromley, Harrow and Hillingdon and Surrey County Council was dismissed. Mayor Sadiq Khan said the judgement was a ‘landmark decision’ and the extension to the GLA boundary will therefore take place on 29th August.

The unexpected Tory win in the Uxbridge and South Ruislip byelection was widely put down to the unpopularity of the ULEZ expansion. It is certainly true that a huge amount of anti-ULEZ invective had been pumped out by the right-wing press, including the Evening Standard which opined that people in outer London don’t believe that air quality is a problem. The Labour candidate, Danny Beales, responding to this pressure, said that he thought implementation should be postponed and Labour leader Keir Starmer called on the Mayor to ‘reflect’ on the Mayor’s decision to go ahead. Tory mayoral candidate, Susan Hall, said she would axe the expansion ‘on day one’, despite the fact that it was initially a plan proposed by Boris Johnson when he was Mayor. The furore continues as the prime minister declares he is ‘on the side of motorists’ and has ordered a review of low traffic neighbourhoods.

The level of compensation for people who have difficulty in finding the money to replace non-compliant vehicles was a factor which opponents seized upon. This was originally only available to people on benefit but, to sugar the pill, will now be extended to anyone - £2,000 for a car and more for sole-traders who need to replace vans and for charities which need to replace minibuses. Grant to replace a wheelchair-accessible vehicle is to be doubled.

It is unfortunate that the byelection happened just at the time when people were likely to be most anxious about the effects of the change, although for 90 per cent of car owners and, of course, all non-car owners, the only affect will be better air quality. Experience with the Congestion Zone and the initial imposition of ULEZ to the North and South Circular roads suggests that opposition dies down after a while and people are generally supportive. It’s certainly necessary that moves to reduce air pollution and reduce the attraction of private motoring continue if we are to have any chance of keeping the earth habitable.

Boroughs marked on healthy streets

The Healthy Streets Coalition (of which Future Transport London is a member) ranks boroughs each year according to their performance on six key measures shown to reduce car use and enable active travel, namely: Low Travel Neighbourhoods, 20 mph speed limits, controlled parking, bus priority, protected cycle lanes and safe ‘School Streets’ – all of which have a big impact, often literally overnight, on residents’ health.

This year they have awarded top marks to five boroughs: City of London, Waltham Forest, Camden, Islington and Richmond. The City leads the way on delivering schemes for walking, wheeling and cycling, as well as public transport, and reducing and restricting car use. They are also praised for their visionary schemes such as the pedestrian and cycle friendly reworking of Bank junction. Islington is praised for its delivery on 20mph, bus priority, LTNs, schools provision and controlled parking, and Waltham Forest for its LTNs. Lurking at the bottom of the table are Hillingdon, Bexley and Havering with car-dominated environments failing to enable residents to switch to public transport, walking and cycling.

The coalition draws attention to the fact that 38 per cent of adults and 66 per cent of children in London do not have the recommended amounts of physical activity and nearly 40 per cent of all children in London are overweight or obese. They point out that active travel (walking and cycling) instead of using cars or buses would help deal with the problem.

Switching to sustainable transport in outer London

It is well established that there is more car use in outer than in inner London and the reasons are not hard to find. A report from Centre for London shows that 38 per cent of journeys in outer London are by car compared with 19 per cent in inner London. The report goes on to list ways in which this disparity might be reduced.

Repurposing roads to make them more accessible for cycling and walking is one way but local authorities are hampered by lack of funds not only to implement schemes but to navigate the inefficient and time consuming application process.

The report also advocates encouragement of shared transport schemes including club cars and bike hire.

Improved public transport inevitably features. There is praise for TfL’s proposed Superloop but more bus priority schemes are necessary. The report says that public transport access and cycling and walking infrastructure should be implemented in new developments before or during construction so that new residents could see in advance that it is possible to move around without needing a car. Early use of developer funding should be used for this.

The report mentions rail transport and urges that more should be done to improve frequencies and reliability of train services, but the possibility of building more lines is recognised as being very expensive. There are of course some possibilities such as the West London orbital line and there could be other orbital rail possibilities given imagination and funds.

The report suggests that decisions on transport investment are largely based on the economic gains from business and commuter travel. It suggests that developments in travel, particularly after Covid, might put more weight on other transport uses such as hospital visits, shopping and leisure trips, and that this might help shift the emphasis from radial to orbital journeys.

One day travel cards

The decision of the Mayor to scrap the one-day travel card has been met with outrage by many campaigners. The travel card enables passengers to buy a ticket covering all transport systems in London; either for zones 1 and 2, or 1 to 6. It can be purchased by cash or by card. It can be bought as an add-on to a rail ticket to London from outside the GLA area. Despite the outrage TfL is to stop selling the travelcards in January 2024 unless TfL can find someone to cover the costs.

The alternative is to use an Oyster card or a contactless card. Using a card accumulates costs as you travel up to a maximum which is at present £14.90 for zones 1 to 6. (A day travel card costs £15.20.)

The problems are that Oysters are not that suitable for someone who wants to travel in London for only one day, and using cards requires passengers to have a bank account. Young people cannot access reduced fares unless they have a Zip Oyster card which requires a photo and a wait of 28 days to obtain it. Although travel cards allow discounts for young or disabled people to be applied, the alternatives do not. Additionally many overseas visitors would have to pay more to use their bank cards if their bank charges them for making payments in the UK. The forthcoming closure of most ticket offices will make the situation worse.

TfL is desperate to save money to comply with the government’s demands and it is estimated that scrapping the one-day travel card would save £40 million per year, but at the cost of inconveniencing many vulnerable people and possibly putting them off travelling by public transport at all.

London TravelWatch Survey - Southeastern Timetables

After Southeastern imposed reduced timetables from 11th December 2022 without prior consultation (reported in Newsletter 47), London TravelWatch commissioned a survey to which 528 passengers responded in March 2023.

Eighty-two per cent said that Southeastern should consult passengers before timetable changes. Other results were mixed: those on the Hayes line had the most positive reaction to the new timetables; those on the Bexleyheath line the most negative Having to change additionally at Lewisham or London Bridge and/or having longer journeys clearly caused discontent as did levels of crowding at London Bridge

No formal consultation preceded Southeasterrn’s summer timetables from 21st May, either, but complaints were addressed with 29 additional trains every Monday to Friday, and 34 additional trains on Saturdays. Twenty-five trains each weekday now have more carriages. There is now an hourly direct off-peak service to Charing Cross every weekday and on Saturdays on the Bexleyheath line and additional peak services on weekdays on the Sidcup line.

Safer HGVs

New rules by TfL are requiring all goods vehicles over 12 tonnes to have a three-star rating or fit a Progressive Safe System (PSS) to ensure that drivers have a sufficient view of cyclists and pedestrians. Changes include Camera Monitoring Systems (CMS) which will be fitted in place of mirrors and audio warnings to ensure vehicles have the ability to warn of an intended manoeuvre. The system is designed to eliminate any remaining blind spots on the passenger side. Moving Off Information Systems (MOIS) have to be fitted to ‘prevent collisions at the frontal blind spot zone when a vehicle moves off from rest’, said TfL.

The changes will strengthen the present Direct Vision Standard (DVS), HGV Safety Permits Scheme and the Safe System. TfL said that fatal collisions where vision is a factor have fallen by 75 per cent since the introduction of DVS in the capital in March 2021.

Silvertown Tunnel

Greenwich Council, along with Southwark, Hackney and Lewisham, have for a long time been opposed to the Silvertown Tunnel. They say that TfL’s claim that the new tunnel will virtually eliminate traffic congestion in Blackwall Tunnel is unlikely to materialise even if both tunnels are tolled. Greenwich Council have now asked that the tunnels be repurposed in favour of active travel and public transport. The present plans exclude cycling and, initially, only two bus routes are planned, only one of which would include stops near the tunnel entrances.

Mayor Sadiq Khan in a vigorous support for the tunnel described his opponents as ‘living in never-never land’. He says the tunnel is essential to relieve congestion and thereby to reduce air pollution. He also pointed out that the original Blackwall Tunnel with its sudden bends and narrow dimensions is inadequate for modern standards and causes horrendous delays for the buses on route 108 which use it.

Lessons from the Croydon tram crash

That somebody should be called to account for the death of seven people in the Croydon tram crash of November 2016 is indisputable. Whether the chief culprit should be Alfred Dorris, the driver, is not so clear. He has now been acquitted of the charge of failing to take reasonable care at work. Understandably relatives of those who died were disappointed at the verdict but the trial hid the real failings of TfL and Tram Operations Ltd who have now between them been fined £14m.

This was not the first time that drivers had taken this sharp 90o turn above the 20km/h limit. Although the turn is immediately after a tunnel in which the maximum permitted speed is 80km/h warning signs were inadequate and there was no system alerting drivers to overspeeding. There was no automatic braking system although, in 2019, it was announced that such a system would be fitted at vulnerable sites.

A possible factor was driver fatigue exacerbated by the alleged onerous shift patterns. An in-cab driver protection device that detects and prevents fatigue and distraction has been trialled and is now fitted to all of the network’s trams despite initial misgivings by ASLEF, the drivers’ union.

DLR to Thamesmead

The proposed extension of Docklands Light Railway under the Thames to Thamesmead is progressing with an outline business case having being submitted to the government in June.

The proposal is for a line to branch off from the Beckton line just after Gallions Reach. The first stop would be at Beckton Riverside where a major housing development is planned alongside Gallions Reach Shopping Park and on the site of a former gas works. 38,600 new homes are planned and 55,800 new jobs.

The line would then continue under the river to a stop at Thamesmead town centre where a 197-acre undeveloped site west of the town centre known as Thamesmead Waterfront has 1.2 miles of Thames frontage and, together with derelict land between here and Woolwich Arsenal, is a major site for future homes.

Although this line would hugely improve transport links for Thamesmead connections to the north it would still leave unsatisfactory links to nearby areas and particularly to the tantalisingly close Elizabeth Line. A bus rapid-transit route is therefore being proposed linking Thamesmead with the Elizabeth Line stations at Abbey Wood and Woolwich using dedicated infrastructure.

Superloop gets new numbers

Two of the three existing express bus routes were designated with ‘X’ numbers (the other is 607) and the new orbital Superloop routes were to be given the same treatment. But now, as part of the publicity for the new project, all are to be numbered ‘SL’. The full list is as follows:

SL1 - North Finchley to Walthamstow (X34)

SL2 - Walthamstow Central to North Woolwich (X123)

SL3 - Thamesmead to Bromley (X269)

SL4 - Canary Wharf to Grove Park (X239)

SL5 - Bromley to Croydon (X119)

SL6 - Russell Square to West Croydon (X68)

SL7 - Croydon to Heathrow Airport (X26)

SL8 - Uxbridge to White City (607)

SL9 - Heathrow Airport to Harrow (X140)

SL10 - Harrow to North Finchley (X183).

The first route to be rebranded was SL8 on 15th July.

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