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London Assembly has the right prescription to cure the capital’s congestion

Bridget Fox's picture

The London Assembly Transport Committee has published "London Stalling", the much-anticipated report following its inquiry into London's traffic congestion.

The report's bold recommendations for smart road pricing, more bus and cycle lanes,  a clampdown on unnecessary deliveries and piloting a Workplace Parking Levy, are ones we should all welcome.

 

Congestion is a hot topic, and one that’s getting national attention. More people living in cities, more vehicles on the road (despite falling car ownership),  means more competition for space: too many vehicles on our streets all adds to air pollution, obesity and blighting the public realm. Something needs to change.

The London Assembly Transport Committee’s report on urban congestion is both important and timely.

Last September, our Chief Executive Stephen Joseph was one of the experts called to give evidence to the Inquiry, and we also made a detailed written submission, summarised here.

So how do the Assembly’s recommendations match with our proposals?

The report leads with measures to manage demand, including a call for usage-based road pricing  It rightly rejects the fallacy that we can build our way out of congestion with new road capacity, and it picks up points we've stressed on sorting out freight and continuing to invest in bus priority, cycle lanes and other sustainable transport options. We're particularly pleased to see backing for the Workplace Parking Levy, a winning policy that we championed to the committee in our evidence. 

Smarter road pricing

The headline recommendation is a call for a reformed road pricing regime in London, which would better target vehicles using the most congested parts of the road network at peak times.  We’re used to paying more for peak time travel on other services, so why not on roads too?

The report includes detailed findings on Londoners’ attitudes.  Usage-based road pricing is seen as fairer than the current congestion charge by a majority of those surveyed, while over 40% say it would encourage them to drive less. 

Compatible technology

It makes sense to use technology for managing the Ultra Low Emission Zone that will be compatible with future road pricing. That’s what Milan, for example, does with its EcoPass.  London should seek to be ready for people using ‘mobility as a service’, making the best transport choice for each journey rather than being wedded to the car.

Workplace Parking Levy pilots

We strongly support the Assembly’s call for a pilot of the Workplace Parking Levy in partnership with one or more boroughs. This was a key proposal in our evidence, based on Nottingham’s successful implementation.

It makes sense to look at this in areas outside the current congestion charge which have large volumes of commuter or construction traffic. We’re proud to be quoted in the Assembly report, and look forward to this innovative, practical policy going live in London.

More delivery consolidation

In line with our proposals, the report recommends that TfL should take steps to encourage more consolidation of freight traffic, and to ensure that Londoners can receive personal deliveries in more sustainable ways.

Our evidence gave examples from within London (such as the Regent Street scheme) and further afield (e.g. Monoprix in Paris) of how co-ordinating deliveries and making better use of rail freight, can make a positive difference. 

There’s a real opportunity here for new businesses providing consolidation services in London, and existing partnerships such as Business Improvement Districts to add value by promoting such schemes.

Ban on personal deliveries at work

This is a ‘quick win’ measure that TfL is being asked to pilot, then share with other large employers.  We suspect companies who find their postroom operations overrun with Christmas shopping orders will be happy to adopt this. Even if the number of deliveries remains the same, they are likely to be better spread across London and throughout the day.

More ‘click and collect’ at tube and rail stations

This goes hand in hand with the ban on workplace deliveries, and is a smart solution to managing our love of online shopping.  There are already some good examples in London (such as Doddle at Kings Cross or Argos at Cannon Street) but we agree with the report that there’s potential to offer much more. 

Look further at the impact of private hire vehicles

London has seen massive growth in the number of mini cabs entering the congestion zone (over 54% increase since 2013, and now double the number of black taxis, according to TfL).  Minicab services can reduce private car use: but does this growth in traffic really reflect need?

We agree that more work needs to be done to understand their impact on congestion: and it’s vital that minicabs are included in future road pricing and air quality schemes.

Encourage modal shift

The report rightly says that London needs to continue encouraging people to shift toward more sustainable transport modes. This brings multiple benefits not only in cutting congestion but in better journeys to work, improved public health, more business for local traders, and creating a more liveable city.  Road pricing will help but further investment in public transport capacity and cycling and walking infrastructure is also needed.

Review TfL’s Road and Transport Enforcement Team

With just 80 officers across London, the team is overstretched.  Keeping traffic flowing safely and managing interactions between different road users is vital.

Initiatives from other areas, like enforcing safe passing distances, stopping engine idling and keeping dangerous lorries off the road, could be usefully deployed across London.

Review lane rental and permit schemes

We agree with the principle that the cost of delayed roadworks on London’s road users is reflected in the amount companies must pay.  It’s also important that the system is as clear and simple for all users as possible.

It’s easy to blame streetworks for congestion, but keeping our utilities working is just as essential as travelling around the streets above them.  Reviewing the system makes sense to get the right balance: an efficient system, fairly regulated.

Keep rolling out the cycle routes

It’s good to see strong support for dedicated cycling provision, which has been a major success in London.  The report says that TfL should continue to roll out the proposed network of safer cycling routes such as Cycle Superhighways and Quietways, while seeing if their construction can be made more efficient.

Along with roadworks, dedicated cycle lanes are often blamed for congestion. The Assembly report confirms that this is wrong.  We’ve long argued that cycle lanes and bus lanes are congestion busters, part of the solution not the problem.

No need for new roads

The Committee heard some calls for new road capacity, as well as compelling evidence that that building a new road-based river crossing would create congestion on either side of the crossing, precisely as the growing number of objectors to the Silvertown Tunnel fear.

We're glad to see the report agree with our view that building new road infrastructure isn't the answer.

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There are some important points in our evidence that we'd like to have seen added to the report, not least the vital role of planning in getting future transport provision right and the importance of managing parking for all road users, not only those driving to the workplace. However, overall, the report sets out a bold prescription to cure London’s congestion that sets a timely challenge to the Mayor and TfL. 

As it concludes, “Sadiq Khan will shortly be producing his first Mayor’s Transport Strategy, defining the way he and TfL will respond to one of the biggest transport challenges facing London. The findings of our investigation show clearly that London needs bold action, with road pricing representing the best option the Mayor has to make a significant difference to congestion levels in London.”

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