Brian Macdowall is Director of the Alliance of British Drivers.
Last year Sadiq Khan was elected Mayor of London on a bland manifesto pledging to tackle congestion through harmless-sounding measures like encouraging car clubs and managing road works. He also promised to maintain the Congestion Charge at its current level.
He would not have been elected if he had come out with blatantly anti-driver proposals. However, his recent Mayor’s Transport Strategy consultation paper does precisely this.
The under-publicised proposals seek ‘new ways of paying for road use’, hinting at pay-per-mile road pricing, coincidentally on the EU blueprint released just weeks before. This could see the Congestion Charge extended across Greater London, with councils asked to consider it as part of a package of blunt traffic reduction measures. They could also be asked to bring in ‘Workplace Parking Levies’ – effectively a tax on going to work.
Britain’s drivers pay roughly five times over to use the road. Yet the Mayor feels that London ‘pays too little’, without giving any figures to support this. It is worrying that he wants to take over collection of VED (‘road tax’) and set the rate. Part of the reason might be his management of London’s finances, which has been criticised for extravagance and waste.
He seeks to discourage car ownership, using a reduction in the availability of private parking and discriminatory parking charges against some vehicles. This is simply absurd, as any vehicle parked with its engine turned off will not have any emissions…
Khan’s proposed repressive measures against drivers on air quality grounds are sheer hypocrisy when you realise that he lays on large firework displays such as for New Year (repeatedly!) and promotes them at the Thames Festival.
Despite paying lip service to the principles of ‘robust’ and ‘compelling’ evidence, the consultation paper proposes draconian measures on environmental grounds, sidestepping the GLA’s own evidence on figures for ‘premature deaths’ linked to nitrogen dioxide (NO2). The publication ‘Better Environment, Better Health, A GLA guide for London’s Boroughs’ admits they are just a statistical manipulation – they do not relate to real individuals. Transport Watch’s ‘The Great Dirty Diesel Scare’ also exposes a lack of confidence in the figures.
The legality of the entire consultation is suspect. A Supreme Court case (UKSC56, Moseley v Haringey) established some principles. A fair consultation should ensure that those being consulted receive all relevant information – note in particular Khan’s lack of costings for what he hopes Londoners will nod through and then have to pay for.
A fair consultation should also set out alternative approaches. Yet Khan effectively presents a package of measures to rubber-stamp rather than discussing any real alternative approaches, at least those that would not involve a heavy-handed crackdown on drivers.
Others have managed to come up with proposals for environmental improvements without the same drastic impact. The publications ‘Urban Air Quality and Public Health’, ‘A Breath of Fresh Air’ and some suggestions by Fair Fuel UK are worth a read.
Khan also proposes reallocating road space away from drivers, even though the reduction in space has been a key factor in increasing congestion. His aides in Transport for London seem to have learned nothing from the disastrous pedestrianisation of Trafalgar Square which increased congestion for miles around.
It is strange that ‘demand management’ measures are aimed at cracking down on those who need to drive in the interest of conserving road space, while at the same time pushing more people onto already overcrowded public transport. The overall plan seems to be to support and even encourage large-scale population growth in London – even though it increases ‘demand’ – pressure on resources like road space.
Other petty proposals are for mandatory ‘car-free’ and ‘car-lite’ housing developments, more road closures and car-free days in high streets and town centres. He even hints at car parking at stations being made less convenient or spaces being removed.
Overall, he shows very little appreciation of how car use benefits families’ daily lives.
We have until 2 October to object to the proposals. More information here.