Archive for the 'Transport' Category

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Why scrapping the M4 bus lane is bad for motorists

I’m no stranger to the M4 and the bottleneck around the bus lane at Junction 3, getting back into London is infuriating. The news been somewhat drowned out by benefit changes but Phil Hammond’s shamelessly populist announcement that the M4 bus lane will be scrapped is going to make things worse, not better.

The rationale for the M4 bus lane is poorly understood – and not helped by New Labour spinning it as an environmental measure when it was, and remains, primarily an important traffic management technique.

The reason there is a bottleneck on the M4 is that between junctions 3 and 2 the road reaches on elevated section, just two lanes wide on each side, and with a 40mph limit. It’s not hard to see that this would cause a bottleneck at the head of the a 70mph motorway with 3 lanes and a hard shoulder on each side. Widening the final section of the M4 is impractical/expensive/politicallly “brave” as widening an elevated motorway in London involves requisitioning and demolishing so much private property.

So the Highways Agency came up with a simple, yet ingenious measure. In order to manage the flow of traffic better they brought the narrowing of the road forward to junction 3, when much traffic is leaving the M4 anyway, and dropping the speed to 50mph (since raised to 60mph). That left them with a “spare” lane and rather than painting it with white lines (or planting trees or whatever) they decided to paint it red so that the few busses and taxis on the M4 could take advantage – and why not? Of course, the bus lane is under-utilised, if it wasn’t it wouldn’t solve the bottleneck!

Although the bus lane reduces the space available on the road it smoothes traffic flow: the well-respected Transport Research Laboratory’s research showed that despite increased traffic, peak-time journey times were actually reduced for all vehicles; off-peak times did go up slightly for cars, but all journeys were more reliable.

For more detail, including a graphical explanation on the M4 bus lane, see Chris Marshall’s explanation.

Phil Hammond’s announcement may well earn him some brownie points for seeming to oppose an “anti-motorist” measure. Yet the real anti-motorism here is this surrender of logic and evidence-based policy to shamless populism.

I’m splitting my vote for change in Barnet (Council)

In Barnet it is indeed time for change. The Labour group have not been an effective opposition on the Council and Barnet is, largely, a Conservative suburban borough but the Conservative administration here really do need a kick up the backside. Quite apart from fiascos such as losing £18 mn of tax payers’ money in Icelandic banks, the last few years can be characterised simply in this way: a bunch of councillors elected by the more affluent ares protecting their precious ‘suburban character’ whilst dumping unwanted new developments in the poorer parts. There’s also a general attitude problem as you can see from one or two blogs as well as a debacle over sheltered housing where vulnerable pensioners had to take their own Council to court (and won!)

I live in the Cricklewood part of Golders Green ward. We’ve seen the loss of Hendon Football Club because of the Council’s bloody-mindedness in selling metropolitan open land to developers (who have now left the site derelict as they’ve run out of cash). We’ve seen an unpopular £4.5 bn regeneration scheme for Brent Cross Cricklewood dumped on us despite local opposition.

As a cycling campaigner the current administration are also problematic for me. They do not see cycling a serious form transport in London, have actively removed cycle stands from town centres, have no regard for cyclists in road junction design (even where as it Staples Corner, it conflicts with the Conservative Mayor of London’s plans for cycle ‘superhighways’). Certain councillors have a policy of deleting emails from cyclists without reading them. Certainly I’ve found that if I complain about a pot hole as a motorist I get a speedy response, if I complain about a pot hole as a cyclist I get ignored. The outgoing Leader of the Council, Mike Freer, even told me on my radio show that he thought commuting by bicycle in London was basically “too dangerous” and that there was “nothing that could be done” to make it safer.

Golders Green ward is safely Tory-held as a result of the 2/3 of voters who live on the other side of the A41. Consequently Cricklewood gets neglected. Of our 3 incumbent Tory councillors I’ve only ever seen one locally – he seemed to genuinely campaign for local people but recently went AWOL in Australia (whilst continuing to draw expenses!). The other two are father and son, the sonfather having been a councillor for a very long time but I’ve never seen him here (he’s also the Cabinet Member for Planning…). So I’ll be voting for change in this ward. As it’s a safe seat I’ll be hedging my bets to maximise the chance of at least one Tory being ousted. My three votes will be going to Dorothy Badrick (Residents’ Association and long standing local campaigner), David Robinson (Labour, hard-working agent for our outgoing MP who I’m sure will be an excellent candidate) and Weng Leong Ang (Lib Dem, another active local campaigner!).

Elsewhere in the Borough I encourage others to vote for genuinely good hard-working councillors where they exist, and tactically for change otherwise, especially in the key marginal wards.

Back the Cross River Tram

Mayor Boris has decided to review all the various transport projects in London. Whilst this happens it’s important to show levels of public support for important initiatives. So please take a few moments to sign the petition in support of the Cross River Tram. Especially if you are one of the many people who has to find a vacant arm pit to squeeze your head into on the Northern Line every morning, or breath in all the bus fumes in Bloomsbury!

Even better why not write to the Mayor and your local London Assembly representative? Get your responses in good time for the 9th of September when the London Assembly’s Transport Committee will be looking at CRT.

Here’s a summary of some the benefits of the CRT:

  • Carrying over 90 million passengers per year.
  • Giving passengers travelling to work on the Victoria, Northern & Piccadilly lines a more comfortable journey as it will help relieve passenger congestion.
  • Reducing crowding at Euston, Camden Town and Elephant & Castle.
  • Providing access to over 200,000 residents with better access to employment, health and leisure opportunities.
  • Reduce car usage by over 2 million trips per year as people switch to this environmentally friendly option.
  • An estimated reduction in CO2 emissions of over 19,000 tonnes.
  • Enhance access by providing around 30 new fully accessible stops throughout central London.

There is a real risk that some local objections to details of the route in Camden may be used by those Conservative AMs opposed to trams to derail the whole scheme. So please lend CRT your support.

Give hauliers red diesel – in return for road pricing

Fuel protests are due to return to London this morning. Hauliers are protesting against the rising costs of fuel and the detrimental effect it’s having on the economy. Co-incidentally a group of Labour MPs is meeting the Chancellor today to press for concessions on forthcoming motoring tax increases.

I’ll deal with the general issue of fuel and vehicle duty in another post. The government have had 8 years since the last fuel protests to sort the system out to make it equitable, accountable and acceptable to the public. One is not inclined to be sympathetic to their predicament over the issue now.

Nevertheless I do have some sympathy for the position of the road hauliers. They are asking for a 25p / litre rebate on fuel duty. Their reasoning being that fuel duty (and hence fuel prices) are significantly lower elsewhere in Europe and that they are not able to effectively compete with foreign hauliers. They complain that foreign hauliers are coming to Britain fully loaded with fuel in order to undercut their British counterparts. They also point to the lucrative cross-Channel haulage business.

Clearly the effect that high fuel duty has of getting HGVs coming over from across the continent (burning even more fuel) is somewhat perverse. Yet simply giving hauliers a significant rebate is not the answer, either. Our use of fuel is not sustainable. The oil price is going to stay high, and rise, for the medium to long term. The cost of road haulage must rise, along with all other uses of oil, in order to encourage use of alternatives (i.e. local produce and rail freight). Other European countries might have lower fuel duty, but they also have a much higher state subsidy for rail, paid out of general taxation. It’s unlikely the British taxpayer could swallow moving to such a model overnight and, arguably, it’s better to make people consider the economic cost of each journey they make rather than simply subsidising greener alternatives.

So, in order to address the hauliers’ valid concern over fairness of competition I propose that they be given access to red diesel (currently permitted to farmers only, with significantly lower tax levels). This would give them a much bigger discount than what they are asking for. But I would propose one condition: hauliers should start paying electronic road pricing.

Road pricing is a much fairer mechanism for hauliers to pay for both the economic cost of road maintenance as it would apply to all HGVs, including those coming over from Europe. With access to red diesel they would have a level playing field with their European counterparts. Road pricing is also much more effective for tackling congestion as different prices can be applied to suit the varying road types. Inner city and residential roads should have higher prices per km, rural and trunk roads should be lower.

Of course there is a problem with this proposal: the government does not have an infrastructure in place for road pricing and is intending to make use of Galileo. Yet there’s no reason why an initial infrastructure could not be based off Navstar-GPS. It would take a couple of years, even if they kept it simple, yet I’m sure they could work out some interim arrangement. The real issues are: whether the hauliers would buy it, and perhaps more importantly, does the government have the balls?