Sadiq Khan’s greatest direct influence as Mayor of London is over transport. It touches everyone who lives in and visits the capital’s streets, its stations and bus stops. It determines where the city will grow and how quickly we will tackle air quality, climate change, obesity and physical inactivity. And it is Sadiq’s biggest budget: £10bn of the mayor’s £16bn budget this year. In a few weeks this draft strategy should be released, so what should we expect?
Tough times ahead
First off, the transport strategy is no simple declaration. At 361 pages, Boris’s strategy came two years after his election in 2008. After one year Sadiq’s first draft is good progress in developing policies to cover off a vast range of services: the Underground, Overground, TfL run railways, DLR, trams, buses, cycle hire, taxis, London’s main roads and funding to London’s boroughs to spend on their streets, for instance.
This is made harder by the fact central government will withdraw its revenue grant in 2018 making TfL one of the world’s only urban transport authorities without funding from its government. However, the mayor shouldn’t sit back and make this excuse – as you might guess, there’s a lot one can do with tens of billions.
How mayors leave their mark
An ambitious mayor isn’t going to have a business-as-usual strategy. While business as usual for TfL is the provision of affordable, accessible and decent public transport, the scale of London’s challenges requires something altogether different. Any mayor who wants to leave a mark on London will do so through this strategy – from bendy buses to Boris buses – it invariably set out to achieve something altogether more ambitious.
The mayor has made fairly clear his short term priorities for transport: tackling lethal and illegal air pollution, bringing down the cost with a fare freeze and hopper bus tickets, and, boosting the budgets for walking and cycling. But this long-term strategy should work towards a bigger vision – making London zero carbon perhaps?
The eye-catching goal
The manifesto commits to zero carbon by 2050 and in the mayor’s term this is one way to set us on that path. When it comes to London’s greenhouse gas emissions, transport has some serious catching up to do. It accounts for one fifth (20%) of London’s emissions and within that the big culprit is road transport which produces three-quarters (75%) of the sector’s emissions. With big power over transport this has to be a focus for the mayor.
The benefits of a climate target is a it captures a lot of the mayor’s priorities: increasing walking and cycling, cleaning London’s air, reducing car-dependency and rolling out better public transport in the places it doesn’t yet reach. Zero emission vehicle technology is rapidly improving and cycling’s mode share is growing fast – between 2013 and 2014 it grew an unprecedented 10%. But it’s not without its challenges. Greenhouse gas emissions from transport are down just 2% in 14 years.
With the exception of air quality proposals, the drive to tackle transport emissions hasn’t been made clear yet. In December the mayors of Paris, Madrid, Athens and Mexico City announced plans to take diesel off their roads by 2025. London was a notable absence from this list. And the go-ahead for the £1bn road tunnel at Silver Town seems to counter any green credentials, too.
The transport strategy is one of the mayor’s most important strategies in tackling climate change. This strategy will have global benefits – the technologies and policies developed here can be scaled and exported in major cities across the world, just as London imports ideas developed in New York City or Bogota.
So here’s what it should needs to do:
Reduce traffic and support less driving
We’ve made the case before for road-pricing as the only sustainable method to manage congestion and free-up street space for different uses. It will be important to see how this very politically difficult topic surfaces in the strategy, indeed, whether it will. We think it should. As the London Assembly also made clear earlier in the year.
Make it easy for people to walk and cycle
Sustrans’ bread and butter – making it easier for people to walk and cycle. This is core to the mayor’s Healthy Streets approach backed up with £770m for cycling within a £2bn pot including funding for air quality, bus priority and public realm. The previous strategy talked up a 5% mode share for cycling and targeted 1.5 million daily trips by 2026.
What we know is that Sadiq has doubled funding, holds the ambition for all Londoners to achieve 20 minutes of walking or cycling every day and sits on TfL’s analysis of cycling potential, which suggests that around eight million journeys a day could be cycled. Taken together we have the case for a cycling target that ought to go through the roof. By 2041 we should be aiming for Dutch levels, forget a 10 per cent share.
Where this cycling growth comes from is of interest. In outer London in particular, the big focus has to be on reducing car dependency – this will involve all of the tools delivered in inner and central London being redeployed for the burbs.
Cycling has a major role to play here. In the suburban sprawl public transport isn’t always cost-effective, yet millions of very short car journeys are being made that could be cycled with the right street infrastructure. That’s not to say that central and inner London are sorted. We’re still a way off the eight to 80 year old cycling culture we see across the North Sea in inner London as well, but focussing on where cycling is already somewhat popular misses the huge potential that is closer to the M25.
Lead to much better use of lorries and vans
A.k.a, spreading demand across the day rather than everyone piling on to the roads and trains at rush hour while also making sure trucks, vans and cars are as full as they can be for every trip.
On the one hand, road-pricing would provide the price signal for business and individuals to start doing this themselves, on the other, there’s a lot that can be done in the interim to improve vehicle and street efficiency.
Consolidation centres for retail or construction are cited as one of the best ways to tackle this. With these, every journey involves a full vehicle in both directions (this is surprisingly rare today). Heathrow airport mandates use of its centre and some huge construction sites plan to use this method to keep lorry traffic down. In e-retail alone, one in ten deliveries fail at the first attempt. So there is mileage (excuse pun) in London-wide action improving the efficiency these operations.
How different will London be in four years?
There are many immediate actions the mayor can take to tackle climate change. For cycling and walking, as I’ve argued before, one of the key things is to facilitate and expedite delivery through London’s boroughs – who control 95% of London’s streets.
But in the longer-term Londoners need a vision to get behind and real measures that move us toward it. The mayor’s transport strategy will be out for consultation in the coming weeks and it will let us see what kind of legacy Sadiq Khan wants to leave by using the greatest powers at the Mayor of London’s disposal.