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Roads to Nowhere

Does London's Mayor have the right transport vision?

Bridget Fox's picture
Front cover of MTS

What’s your vision for London’s transport in 2040 and beyond? From healthy streets to road pricing, we've been taking a look at the Mayor of London's plans to get the capital’s future on track. 

Consultation has recently closed on the Mayor of London’s draft Transport Strategy (MTS).

It’s a strategy that sets out a policy framework to cover the next 25 years to 2041 and beyond, one that will profoundly affect the millions of people who live, work and travel in London.

The MTS sets out a clear vision for a London which dramatically cuts traffic, focusing on healthy streets and active travel, underpinned by a comprehensive public transport network, and co-ordinated with policies on planning and the environment.

With a couple of major exceptions, it’s a vision we’re happy to support.

The big picture is strong and positive, stating that success relies on reducing Londoners’ car dependency in favour of increased walking, cycling and public transport, with 80 per cent using these modes by 2041.

The MTS envisions a London where by 2041 the public transport system will be catering for up to 15 million trips a day, and the entire system will be zero emission by 2050.

Transport will be linked to spatial planning, with new infrastructure like Crossrail 2 delivered not in isolation but to unlock new homes and jobs, and existing suburban rail brought into the TfL family.

Meanwhile partnership working with boroughs and businesses will deliver healthy streets with better cycling and walking as part of an accessible and inclusive capital city.

While the draft strategy is a big document – 300 pages in hard copy – it’s light on local detail. This is about the big picture of the kind of city London should be to deliver good growth and healthy places, not the granular detail of individual bus routes.

There are some interesting ideas, including developing a network of orbital rail services and mini-radial services, with improved interchanges, and some specific commitments, like adopting Vision Zero for road danger.

We’re pleased to see the MTS has picked up a lot of the ideas we submitted to the London Assembly inquiry on congestion, including better local freight consolidation and workplace parking levies.

The healthy streets approach is refreshing, looking at ten indicators, from easy crossings to clean air, that make streets good places to be as well as to travel through.  Throughout the strategy, there are strong connections made to the benefits for public health and the natural environment.

The vision is good, but the MTS is not all perfect.

Two draft policies stand out as needing challenge.

The MTS still includes plans for the Silvertown road tunnel, despite all the evidence that it will make air quality and congestion worse, draw in more HGVs and create worse spaces for walking and cycling.  It’s disheartening that after so many good aspirations for cutting traffic, the most substantive roads proposal in the draft MTS would do the opposite. 

On rail freight, the MTS also gets it wrong in our view, apparently seeing freight trains as a nuisance on the network to be excluded from London rather than a critical part of the transport solution. As our research shows, rail freight can replace thousands of HGV trips a day, and is a popular solution. Our sister organisation Freight on Rail has also responded to the strategy. 

We hope that the Mayor and TfL will reconsider these two areas which risk undermining the otherwise positive vision in the strategy.

Overall we feel the targets could be more ambitious with more short term milestones on areas like greening the fleet and delivering step free access, to get things moving now and maintain progress in future.

Getting boroughs on board will also be vital. As we’ve seen with the mini Holland schemes, it takes local leadership and dedicated funding to reallocate road space and create safe attractive places for walking and cycling.

Yet the capital is facing a dangerous double hit on roads funding.  Firstly, revenue support from DfT is ending from 2018.

Second, from 2020 the Treasury will be ring-fencing Vehicle Excise Duty (including VED paid by Londoners and by motorists from across the UK who use London’s roads) for England’s strategic road network outside London. Not only will London’s motorists get no local benefit from the VED they pay, but all Londoners, including the many non-motorists, will be subsidising the repair of London’s roads from fares and other local payments. We strongly support the Mayor’s calls for some of Londoners’ VED to be retained for local roads. 

The MTS rightly embraces some form of road user charging. Such schemes help make best use of road space, cut congestion, reduce illegal levels of air pollution and free up space for public transport and active travel in a greener and more pleasant city. They are fairer too, ensuring the polluter pays, capturing some of the costs that traffic imposes on the city and reinvesting in transport services for all Londoners. 

As the entries to this year's Wolfson Prize show, forward-thinking motoring organisations are now debating how to make road charging fair and practical, rather than objecting to it on principle. It's an idea whose time will come during the lifetime of this MTS. 

London has been a leader on the congestion charge, ultra-low emission zones, smart ticketing and public bike hire. Other cities have since overtaken the capital, whether it’s Paris car-free days or Nottingham’s Workplace Parking Levy.  Northampton now has apps to reward car sharing while Reading has a single smartcard covering car share and bus.

With the Mayor’s Transport Strategy, London has the chance to lead again: we now need the detail on the ground to live up to its vision.

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You can read our full response here.

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