Keith Prince is the London Assembly Member for Havering and Redbridge and former Leader of Redbridge Council.
It may come as no surprise to ConservativeHome readers that Sadiq Khan has made a mess of London’s transport over the last six months. Indeed, given that he had made a mess of London’s transport over the last four years, it would be surprising if he had not. However, the current Mayor’s mistakes over lockdown have been particularly damaging, both because of the immediate consequences and because of the extent to which they have set London on the wrong path as we move forward. In my new report, Derailed: Getting London’s Transport Back on Track, I assess the decisions the Mayor has made since March – and make plenty of recommendations for how the Mayor and the Government ought to proceed.
To help inform the report, the London Assembly Conservatives commissioned YouGov to poll Londoners on how their use of, and attitude towards, different transport modes has changed during the Covid-19 pandemic and whether they expect those changes to stick once social distancing ends. We can expect to see Londoners walking a lot more, with just over half (51 per cent) of those polled walking more during lockdown and 56 per cent expecting that to be permanent.
YouGov also found that just under a quarter of Londoners do not expect to use public transport after lockdown and social distancing are over. If true, it’s clear that will have a huge impact on London, how Londoners get around London, and Transport for London’s finances.
Khan seems convinced that there is going to be a cycling revolution, but our polling did not support that theory. In fact, it was notable that 21 per cent of respondents gave up cycling completely during lockdown, in comparison to just 13 per cent who cycled more. Overall, we can expect to see more Londoners cycling in the future, but we found little evidence of a step change.
Perhaps many people who might have cycled more, instead plan to work from home. There is now ample evidence that lockdown has put rocket boosters under the trend for many more people to work from home, increasingly often. Many businesses that have resisted home working were left with no choice and have found that, within the right structure, it can work well for them and for their employees. In the longer term, the decision over where people work will ultimately be one for employers and employees.
In the report, I argue that “instead of trying to somehow return London to the way it was before lockdown – an effort that would inevitably prove impossible – the Mayor and TfL should focus on the core mission of keeping London moving. This means making it as easy, as quick, and as safe as possible, for Londoners and those visiting London to travel wherever they need to go.”
The Mayor’s duty is not to try and corral people into travelling in the way he wants. Instead, he should be finding ways to offer transport options that facilitate people’s choices, rather than seeking to stop them. For example, the Mayor should introduce a Carnet Travelcard. This would enable those who would previously have bought a monthly or annual season ticket, but now work from home for two or three days a week, to buy, perhaps, 50 Travelcards to be used over the course of six months. The daily and weekly Oyster Pay As You Go caps were introduced in response to two reports by Roger Evans, my predecessor as Assembly Member for Havering and Redbridge. They were a great step forward for both home and part-time workers and a Carnet Travelcard would go several steps further, by catering for the many people who would previously have bought monthly or annual season tickets.
The Mayor desperately needs to both cut the cost of TfL, and raise more money, but it’s vital that he does this by maximising revenue from TfL’s capital assets – such as building houses on TfL land – rather than desperately trying to squeeze as much money as possible from motorists. He should reverse his damaging expansion of the Congestion Charge and cancel plans to expand the Ultra-Low Emission Zone to the North and South Circulars in October next year.
TfL too often, particularly under Khan, has a “not invented here” mindset. There is a strong suspicion of ideas from outside the organisation and far too much of a view that if TfL’s not in control of a transport scheme, then it doesn’t really count. In fact, there are multiple ways for the Mayor and TfL to act as transport facilitators, helping to ensure those travelling in London have useful options without actually providing those options itself. Instead of closing off roads to black cabs, the Mayor should accept the principle that black cabs should be able to go anywhere that buses go. He should welcome e-bikes and e-scooters onto London’s roads, allowing the private sector to provide transport options at little or no cost to the taxpayer.
There is far more that a decent Mayor could do to increase car clubs in London. Every additional car club car on the road helps take 13.4 privately-owned cars off it – not by force or coercion or by pricing people off the road, but by making it easier for people who’d be happy not to own a car but need to have the option to drive sometimes to make that choice. Working with the grain of the choices people want to make would be far more effective – and would not penalise those who need to drive more often. If only we had a Mayor who recognised that.