Tag Archives: congestion charge

Dear Feedback…

The BBC have been releasing details of how savings will be made now that the coalition have cut the budget.  One area of spending that has been of particular interest to the newspapers has been the corporation’s wage bill, and especially the wages and expenses of the very highly paid senior management and “talent”.

We were recently reminded of the BBC executive expenses after Ben Goldacre wrote a column about Benford’s Law — the fact that in large data sets which are distributed across multiple orders of magnitude the leading digit of data points is more frequently ‘1’ than ‘2’, ‘2’ than ‘3’, and so on.

BBC executive expenses are just such a data set, and two years ago John Graham-Cumming checked how well individual execs’ expense claims matched the ideal Benford set. These were how the frequencies of leading digits looked in the expense claims of former “director of people” Stephen Kelly and current “director of audio and music” Tim Davie compared to the expected frequencies:

A massive excess of expense claims with ‘8’ as the first digit. What were they? “Road/bridge tolls”. That is, the Congestion Charge. We pay — or were paying — BBC execs to drive their private cars around central London. (Road tolls stopped being listed in the reports at the same time as the BBC switched expenses systems (long before the WEZ abolition) — coincidence? Change in the reporting? Change in the rules?)

Chief Operating Officer Caroline Thompson isn’t claiming the CCharge, but she does have a large excess of claims in the £10-19 range — they’re taxi rides.

While a few BBC managers might need reminding that the Central Line stops right outside both Broadcasting House and Television Centre, I can imagine many legitimate reasons for busy BBC execs to be making these journeys by the chosen means, as they go about meeting important people all around town, and it’s only fair that they be compensated for legitimate expenses incurred fulfilling their duties. What doesn’t seem fair is that we pay them to drive twice.

When I mentioned the CCharge expenses story to a BBC friend and NUJ member, they replied with an FOI describing the current “car allowance” paid to BBC senior managers:

There are three levels of car allowance that senior managers are eligible for:

Executive Board members receive £12,900 per annum
SM1s receive £7,800 per annum
SM2s receive £4,800 per annum

These allowances have not been increased for at least 10 years.

The BBC’s Director-General, does not receive a car allowance. However the Director-General is entitled to a car and driver under earlier arrangements. The Director-General has no entitlement to a personal car allowance or fuel allowance.

Financial Year Total Paid in Car Allowance (£)
2008/2009 3,381,439
2009/2010 3,470,119
2010/2011 3,279,866

None of this is really news, none of it is unique to the BBC, and it’s not the greatest of scandals, I just find it weird. The recipients of this benefit can, so far as I can tell, spend it on whatever they like — no need for them to put in a claim for it, or prove that it’s being spent on cars rather than season tickets or bicycles or recreational drugs or whatever BBC managers like spending their money on. It’s really just an arbitrarily named “allowance”, one of several, in reality a part of their salary but hidden from the official figures and the BBC’s published wage bill. But the fact that senior managers expect a “car allowance” is another nice little statement of our car addicted society.

My NUJ friend pointed out that the execs are very interested in cutting the allowances bill. They’re particularly keen on the allowances paid to frontline staff for things like working unpredictable hours. So far, the car allowance has escaped the notice of the knife wielders.

Behavioural interventions get more popular with time

If they work, that is. Same goes for any policy, investment, or change, really. Whether they work is in turn somewhat dependent on whether they are popular, of course, but what determines whether they are popular is different before and after implementation. Before implementation, various campaigners, interested parties, and media sources will be fighting to persuade us what a great / terrible thing the intervention will be, and before implementation an intervention might be unpopular because people have been given a false idea of how bad the problem is, what exactly the proposed solution is, and how likely it is to work. Once they see the intervention working and how much better the world is when that problem has been solved, the opposition fades.

The HoL Sci & Tech committee’s report on evidence-based behavioural change cites the example of the ban on smoking in public places, but a more relevant example might be the London Congestion Charge. Various powerful interest groups raised opposition to the charge in our Motorism-infected media, spreading scare stories of chaos and failure while playing down the problems that the charge was intended to solve. It was unpopular because people were told that it would make getting around more difficult. The reality was that the charge paid for or otherwise enabled a massive improvement in bus speed, frequency and reliability; Oyster; and better streets. For most people, getting around got easier and the streets got nicer. The Congestion Charge was unpopular when people trying to imagine it, based on the misinformation they had been given, but became popular when they could see the reality.

(Sadly this lesson has been missed by Edinburgh, Manchester, and New York, whose politicians rejected road charging because polls showed it to be unpopular. It’s alright for that London, say the newspapers of Edinburgh and Manchester, but they’ve got better alternatives to the car than us — failing to acknowledge the role of the Congestion Charge in providing those alternatives.)

The same applies to bicycle infrastructure. Councillors and politicians thinking about investing in bicycle infrastructure, perhaps even at the expense of a few parking places or a taxi rat-run, shouldn’t spend so much time worrying about per-implementation polls or how large a segment of the population are existing bicycle users. Opposition goes away once people see the reality — that there is no new parking or congestion apocalypse, only a new, better, option for making journeys.

That’s not what I said, say scientists

According to SCIENTISTS, “pollution is not improved by c-charge.”  (“Improved”? These scientists are so sloppy with their language.)

Journalists all over the city are this week reporting that the congestion charge has not reduced air pollution problems in central London, and that’s a fact, proven by science.  (As far as I know, the CCharge was never about air pollution — the clue’s in the name. But it’s potentially an interesting thing to look at all the same.  I can invent in my head plausible hypotheses for why it would improve air quality, and why it wouldn’t, but both would be useless without evidence either way.)

Unfortunately, I’m having a little trouble finding out who these so-called scientists quoted as the source for the claim are.  I asked scientists on twitter, but they couldn’t remember making the statement.

What I can easily find is a set of documents (none of them making the claim) reviewing work that explores a potential link between the CCharge and air pollution.  The documents are not new research published as peer reviewed articles in a scientific journal.  They are a “research report” — a King’s College academic’s review of what we know about the CCharge and air pollution — coupled with commentary and a press release.  The documents are all commissioned and published by the “Health Effects Institute“,

a nonprofit corporation chartered in 1980 as an independent research organization to provide high-quality, impartial, and relevant science on the health effects of air pollution. Typically, HEI receives half of its core funds from the US Environmental Protection Agency and half from the worldwide motor vehicle industry.

And that’s fine.  If the content is good, it doesn’t matter who funded it or where it was published.  I’m merely establishing exactly who is saying what.  The exact people are:

  • Professor Frank Kelly, an environmental health researcher specialising in air pollution, who (as leader of an independent group of scientists) wrote the comprehensive research report reviewing the evidence.
  • HEI’s Health Review Committee, who wrote a short commentary on Kelly’s research report.
  • HEI’s press office, who wrote the press release, which is the only thing that most journalists read.

The main line of research reviewed by Kelly looked at roadside and background levels of nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO) and small particulates (PM10).  The data compared the change (if any) in these pollutants at locations within the CCharge zone from a few years before implementation to a few years after implementation.  It did the same for control locations in London but outside of the CCharge zone, to account for any unrelated trends in air pollution.

Kelly’s report concluded that there was no evidence of a CCharge effect on roadside levels of NOx; a complicated effect on background levels of NOx (whereby one type was marginally reduced and another type increased, especially near the boundary of the zone); but a marginal reduction in carbon monoxide and a reduction in particulates becoming more pronounced the closer one gets to the CCharge zone.  So the overall conclusion is that there is a small amount of evidence to indicate that the CCharge has made a small reduction to air pollution (the exact opposite of the claim attributed to “scientists” in the headlines).  However, the data was extremely limited — in some cases to single data points — and Kelly’s report doesn’t put much weight on any of the conclusions.

Even where there is sufficient data, Kelly’s report indicates that there are limitations to what this kind of data can say about the CCharge effects.  The CCharge zone is very small, he points out, and our atmosphere somewhat fluid: the air in London blows around and mixes, so even with sufficient data, this study design is not an optimal way to answer questions about the CCharge.* **

All of these limitations in study design and data quantity are reflected in the Health Review Committee’s short commentary on the report:

Ultimately, the Review Committee concluded that the investigators, despite their considerable effort to study the impact of the London CCS, were unable to demonstrate a clear effect of the CCS either on individual air pollutant concentrations or on the oxidative potential of PM10. The investigators’ conclusion that the primary and exploratory analyses collectively indicate a weak effect of the CCS on air quality should be viewed cautiously. The results were not always consistent and the uncertainties surrounding them were not always clearly presented, making it difficult to reach definitive conclusions.

Which is to say: the research so far isn’t really capable of answering any questions satisfactorily.  While the evidence is for a small improvement in air quality thanks to the CCharge, none of the evidence is very good.  They go on to make the academic’s favourite conclusion: more research is necessary.

That’s right, this is a 121 page research review with associated commentary which simply concludes that the existing data is insufficient to tell us anything useful at all.  That’s no criticism of Kelly or the HEI.  They set out to review the evidence; the evidence just happens to be severely limited.

The Health Effects Institute decided to press release this.  “Study finds little evidence of air quality improvements from London congestion charging scheme,” the press release screams in bold caps.  “Pollution not improved by C-Charge,” says Londonist. Can you spot the difference between the HEI press release and the Londonist headline?

There is an old saying that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.***  It’s a classic source of bad science and bad journalism, and in this case it nicely sums up what is wrong with the Londonist piece.  A review which actually found very weak evidence that the CCharge improved air quality is covered as a study which found hard proof of the exact opposite.

* Indeed, Boris Johnson would like to blame all of the city’s problems on clouds blowing in from the continent rather than the motor vehicles that account for most of it.

** I could add to this limitation the fact that the CCharge was not merely meant to cut car use within the zone: it was meant to fund a massive increase in bus frequencies, subsidise fares, and generally make buses and trains more inviting throughout London.  The effect of the CCharge on road traffic throughout the capital is complex, so it’s questionable whether the “control” sites can be said to be unaffected by the intervention.

*** Before someone points it out, yes I know it’s a bit more complicated than that, but in this case the saying applies nicely.

How Boris learned to stop worrying and love the Brum

I believe that by tackling congestion, we will tackle emissions. Cars that are moving emit less CO2 than those that are stuck at traffic lights, or in traffic jams. This is why I will not allow smaller cars into the Congestion Charge zone for free, or introduce Ken Livingstone’s £25 charge on large family cars.

–Candidate for Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, 2008 manifesto (PDF)

A small car: many cars in this class have carbon emissions below 100 g/km.

That’s another of the mayor’s election manifesto promises.  “Smaller cars” being shorthand for “cars with smaller engines which therefore emit less carbon dioxide”.  To put it in context, before the 2008 election, the hybrid Prius, at only just over 100 g/km CO2 was the car of choice for those who wanted a greenwash.  There wasn’t much else on offer.  But the long-term trend in improving fuel efficiency of conventional small cars meant that some were beginning to compete with the Prius on miles-per-gallon and carbon emissions — and today several diesel cars are well below 90 g/km CO2 (one of the reasons why driving is so cheap).

Ken’s “new technology exemption” for hybrid cars had been a way of nudging people’s choices in a direction that would support development of alternative car technology, while also being less bad for London’s air quality and emissions targets.  (And Ken was proposing to compliment this incentive with a £25 disincentive for Chelsea tractors, which Boris also refers to above.)

Boris didn’t like all that nudging.  Nudging people’s behaviour with taxes and charges was a nasty Nu Labour thing to do.  He couldn’t get rid of the Congestion Charge completely because its success has nowadays given it popular support, and, more importantly, he needs the revenue from it.  So his transport manifesto was simply saying that he would keep the central Congestion Charging zone, but that it would only be about congestion: it would be technology and emissions blind.  By keeping the traffic moving “smoothly”, emissions would be reduced anyway, he said.

(Keeping traffic moving “smoothly” is itself a crazy fantasy, of course.  Because latent demand for road transport in London is so much larger than supply, the roads will always be just on the edge of gridlock no matter what you do to “smooth” traffic flow, cut congestion, or add or remove capacity.  But all that aside for now…)

I don’t really object to the mayor’s election stance on this issue.  The problems caused by people driving into London are many and great; carbon emissions are just one of the problems, and we should be pursuing policies that solve as many of the problems as possible, not policies that solve (or rather, make a slight impact on) one while continuing to encourage the behaviour that causes all the other problems.

But this was a Boris manifesto pledge, remember.  What happened next?  In 2008, he kept his promise and dropped the proposed £25 Chelsea Tractor charge.  In summer 2009 he began “reviewing” the exemptions rules.  And finally on the 4th of January this year, the new rules came into force.  The Prius lost its exempt status.  So the mayor had finally achieved his technology and emissions blind congestion charge?  Er.  Not quite.  The new rules allow smaller cars into the Congestion Charge zone for free — exactly what Boris promised not to do.

Most of the cars covered by the new “greener vehicle discount” are diesels — the biggest producers of the particulate pollutants that contribute to the deaths of thousands of Londoners from horrible lung diseases.  And the mayor introduced this big new incentive, this great theatrical nudge, to encourage the uptake of diesel cars just weeks before the city faces a £300 million fine for its deadly air quality.  (Not that Boris had a chance of keeping pollution within the thresholds even before this policy, given that he has done nothing substantial about the problem in three years.)  Can’t imagine £300 million?  Imagine the current round of London Borough council budget cuts not happening.

What changed the mayor’s mind?  What happened to “smoothing the flow” with a flat charge?  It’s almost as though smoothing the traffic flow is a meaningless phrase that can be used to justify any policy you like…

Weekly War Bulletin, 1 Jan

A rollover bulletin…

Apparently some people had holiday journeys disrupted by snow?  The civil servants are having fun suggesting technical solutions to the third-rail problem — some more expensive than others.  (Not that the overhead-electric east coast route did any better: the lines came down under the weight of ice; I have vague memories of being told that the line was built with a larger than recommended distance between gantries to save money, in the knowledge that this would mean the cables would fall down more readily.)  Guess it’ll be another fares hike to pay for that, if it ever happens, then.  Can’t have anyone suggesting that we should instead be investing in arranging our lives and economy in a less mobility-reliant way.  Meanwhile, from his bunker, the mayor boasted about London’s resilient transport network even as it predictably ground to a halt.

The weather turned out to be awfully convenient for SouthEastern, who, having called an emergency and cancelled their trains, had the snow days struck from their performance records and subsequently just happened to meet their targets by the tiniest sliver, thus avoiding compensating season ticket holders.

Philip Hammond’s Department for Transport don’t care about the thousands of known dangerous drivers on the roads.  Our judges seem to think that it’s their job to facilitate the truck driver training careers of convicted road-rage attackers.  And the police seem to think that pushing somebody under an oncoming vehicle is fine if they’re a cyclist.  That’s The War On The Motorist, that is.  Just compare the authorities’ actions to those in The War On Drugs.

And the latest reform of road safety initiatives mean that you will no-longer get fined if you only go 10%+9mph over the limit — because what harm could you possibly do at 41 in a built-up area?  As one Daily Mail reader points out, this is “yet another money-gouging racket at the motorist’s expense”.

The Western Extension Zone is no more: Boris promised to obey the people’s will, and 41% of people wanted the WEZ to go, so the numerically challenged mayor (elected by the will of 24.1% of the electorate) obeyed.  The removal of the WEZ, and loss of its £55m revenue, will be funded by the £60m raised by another bus fare hike.

It’s time for those fares increases.  Up to £5,000 season tickets on some routes — though frankly, if you find yourself in the situation where you need to do a £5,000 commute, I think you might be doing something wrong.  Predictions are for a shift from rail to private car,

Fuel duty and VAT also go up this week, though, so it’s still a good time to leave the car behind.  The Express are desperately trying to stir up the resistance.  The Institute of Advanced Motorists is suggesting that, gasp, Motorists might be forced to drive at responsible speeds in order to save fuel, while RMI beg us please won’t somebody think of the petrol stations?

Fake ban on cycling to be enforced by fake police on the South Bank.

Government to publish data on where most people are recklessly breaking the law they are having greatest success at bleeding the poor innocent hard done-by Motorist dry. (c) All Newspapers.

Awww.  Poor Motorists can’t even terrorise sick people by taking short-cuts through hospital car parks without getting hassle some jobsworth.  It’s The War On The Motorist, I tell you.

Absurd solution of the week: Maria Eagle thinks we should pay Motorists not to break the law.  I think there is great potential here for basing all of post-New Labour’s manifesto on this concept.

Speaking of absurd transport solutions, last Bulletin we noted that the absurd Royal Docks cable car would not be entirely privately funded as Boris had originally promised.  Now our suspicions have been confirmed: upon further investigation, estimated costs jump from £25m to £40m, and there is no chance of being built before the mayor’s Olympic deadline.

Could we please drop this folly now and divert the money to keeping our existing river crossings open?  Greenwich Tunnel, the nearest existing crossing (excluding tubes and the motor-only Blackwall Tunnel), is plagued by unscheduled closures due to maintenance problems, with the council and contractors providing a customer service that they surely learnt from SouthEastern.

People got to travel on the tube for free last night, courtesy of a loans company that charges 2,689% interest.  When grilled by LBC, Boris called it extortion, as he happily took the money that they had obtained by extortion.

Humankind has reached the stage where it has developed computers that can be aware of the emotional state of the people using them.  What noble purpose should we find for this technology?  Satnavs that don’t upset their poor sensitive drivers, of course.  Somebody get one for this guy.

Following the earlier news that ELL passenger numbers have risen fast, and the recent introduction of the full timetable, Ian Brown — the man who organised London Overground and had great visions for the public takeover of all suburban rail in London under TfL — is honoured.

Tory campaigners are trying to distract from Boris Johnson’s failure to resolve the problems that unions are striking over by accusing the unions of calling strikes merely to make the mayor look bad.

That Oxford coach that turned over on the motorway? A drunk passenger done it.

The police have been visiting the people selling stolen bikes at Brick Lane.

Careful now.  Cabbies have learned dozens of new ways to kill you.

More plans for congestion relief at Bank.

New York consider adding bicycle training to their driving test.

This “news” is written by “Ian Onions”, which is a delightful combination of syllables.

When did trucks become a problem?

Too busy even to make lunch, I picked up some of the ever awesome streetfood from Simply Thai at Exmouth Market.  Interestingly, TfL had picked the market as a method for distributing their latest marketing campaign: some truck shaped postcards reminding one that undertaking at junctions can be fatal.  The campaign has prompted another outburst of blogging noting that the authorities are engaging in victim blame and doing too little to improve standards of drivers and hauliers.  The Cycling Lawyer, for example, discusses the need for more cuddlier trucks in London.  The Lawyer suggests that rather than frightening cyclists, the authorities should be thinking about things like enforcing proper design standards on lorry owners, and reducing urban speed limits.  The LCC have at least retaliated with their own truck/cyclist safety campaign.

What never seems to be asked at all, though, is why these trucks are even driving into London.  It is always simply assumed that they have to be there.  Suggest in public that the congestion charge should be many times higher, or that central London roads should simply be closed to private and commercial motor transport altogether, and somebody will point out that we all rely on the goods that are driven in.  It would be unfair to penalise those whose livelihoods depend upon cheap and easy access to our city centres.  People doing vital things — like the truck delivering ice to an establishment on Charing Cross Road during last night’s critical mass; the truck on the double yellows blocking Ludgate Hill in the monday morning rush hour so that it could deliver critical life sustaining water to offices; or the truck on Queen Victoria Street that was filling up with dirty table cloths to be taken to an industrial estate for washing.  How else do you propose that offices might get water, bars get ice, or hotels get clean towels?

When the Congestion Charge was introduced, traffic in central London fell by 25%: the roads freed up and journey times fell by a third.  But three years in, traffic was only 16% below pre-CC levels.  By the end of 2007, traffic speeds and delays were back to pre-CC levels.  The long-term effect that the Charge has had is a shift in the make-up of central London traffic rather than a reduction in congestion or emissions, or an improvement in our environs.  Unfortunately, Boris seems to have stopped collecting data on the CCZ traffic, but the data from 2007 already hints at a trend (take a look at page 40 of the TfL report for a nice visualisation of the change in the context of overall numbers of vehicles):

Table 3.1  Key year-on-year changes to traffic entering the central London charging zone during charging hours, 07:00-18:00. [To keep column headings concise, they indicate change compared to previous year; I’ve also condensed vehicle type names.]

2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2002-2007
All vehicles -14% 0% -2% 0% 0% -16%
– 4+ wheels -18% -1% -2% -1% 0% -21%
Chargeable -27% -1% -3% 0% 1% -29%
– Cars & minicabs -33% -1% -3% -1% 0% -36%
– Vans -11% -1% -4% 2% 1% -13%
– Lorries -10% -5% -4% 6% 9% -5%
Non chargeable 17% 1% -1% -1% -1% 15%
–  Taxis 17% -1% 1% -3% -5% 7%
– Buses 23% 8% -4% -3% 5% 31%
– Motorbikes 13% -2% -9% 0% -3% -3%
– Bicycles 20% 8% 7% 7% 12% 66%

So cars (shame that they grouped these with minicabs, which I suspect have a very different profile) fell immediately and stayed down, at least as far as 2007.  Many of those drivers shifted to taxis; a few took to bicycles and motorbikes (but the effect is not impressive, given the low base rate compared to cars).  But the potentially interesting pattern, I think, is how vans and lorries initially fell (although, as we would expect given their vital work, by much less than cars), but have since started growing again.  It’s a shame that the data stops three years ago, too soon to draw any definite conclusions about a growth trend for deliveries.  But it’s enough for me to speculate on a hypothesis.

My hypothesis would be that, by initially reducing the journey times through central London, the congestion charge had the counter-intuitive effect of making it cheaper and more attractive for businesses and organisations to drive ever more goods through town.  Transport infrastructure projects have shown again and again that in highly and densely populated places like England, there is always far more latent demand for transport infrastructure than can ever be provided.  Create vacant capacity and within a decade or so, people will have found a way to use that capacity.  (Take it away, and within a decade everybody will have forgotten why they needed it.)  Offices and bars have discovered that driving bottled water and bagged ice into town is so absurdly cheap that it’s a more attractive deal than buying a mains water cooler or an ice machine; hotels have discovered that driving their bedsheets to a barn on the M25 makes more business sense than paying for a washing machine and a maid to operate it.  Waste has become cheap.  All London’s spoons are plastic now.

The numbers from TfL aren’t good enough to say whether businesses are or are not finding creative new ways to re-fill central London’s briefly free-flowing roads.  But opposite the Exmouth Market stands one great big anecdote: the Royal Mail.  The Mount Pleasant Sorting Office is the largest in London, situated amongst the creative industries and start-ups of Farringdon — not the busiest part of zone 1, but well within the CCharge Zone.  The Mail must contribute thousands of pounds to the CCharge every day for the scores of articulated trucks — including road trains with multiple trailers — and hundreds of vans that drive the mail into central London from around the country and around the world, to be sorted and driven out again.  These are the trucks that you have to watch out for turning at Old Street or the Elephant & Castle.  These are the trucks that will broadside you changing lanes on the Farringdon and King’s Cross Roads.  These are the trucks that TfL are warning you about while you buy your lunch in the shadow of the sorting office at Exmouth Market.

Alongside Mount Pleasant, the Post Office had a dozen big district sorting offices in central London.  Today it drives mail between the remaining ones in articulated trucks.  But for 76 years, the mail was shuttled between seven of the sorting offices on awesome little computer-controlled electric trains that ran on the private underground Mail Rail line, from the Whitechapel office to the Paddington office.  It collected the out-of-town mail straight off the trains at Paddington and Liverpool Street, and sent the mail out again to the same stations.  At their final destination offices, the mail would of course be loaded on to bicycles for the final mile to your door.  Very little mail now comes in by train; the bicycle they announced this year was over — the roads have become too dangerous lately, they said.  And the quiet, safe, direct and dedicated little electric railway under London?  The Royal Mail announced its closure in April 2003, two months after the Congestion Charge was introduced.  Running a railway had not become more difficult or expensive, but driving a truck had become vastly easier and cheaper.

The Congestion Charge is a great money maker for TfL, and a great incentive for a section of drivers to give up their cars.  But as a mechanism for keeping London traffic moving, it might ultimately be doomed to failure, along with all the other schemes that attempt to solve road transport problems by creating vacant road capacity: there will always be somebody with a new idea for using that capacity.  Again, the only hope for our city centres seems to be to reduce road capacity: to close a significant proportion of roads and lanes for private motor vehicles.  The offices and bars and hotels will cope.  They might even rediscover that magical device that we all have: the one that produces water at the merest turn of a tap.

Final reminder: Congestion Charge consultation

TfL’s consultation on proposed changes to the Congestion Charge ends today.  This is your final chance to send in your comments.

Briefly, the notable proposed changes are these:

  • Abolish the Western Extension Zone (WEZ) — the section in Kensington and Knightsbridge, west of Park Lane and east of Shepherd’s Bush.  This was a manifesto promise of the mayor.  The WEZ has been unpopular with rich tories who want to drive to posh Knightsbridge shops, and with the residents of Shepherd’s Bush, Hammersmith, and Wandsworth, who believe that it has merely shifted the congestion into their own streets.
  • More discounts and exemptions for cars with low CO2 emissions, including exemptions for plug-in hybrids and any conventional car that emits less than 100g/km.
  • Increasing the charge by £1, to £9.

Roughly, my comments on these were:

  • If the CCharge zone is merely redistributing congestion to other neighbourhoods, why not extend it, all the way to the M25 if necessary?  If the shifted-congestion claim is true, then TfL’s proposal is endorsing the return of congestion (even worse than before, given the recently remodelled streets) to Knightsbridge and Kensington.  I can’t say I’m much of a fan of these particular neighbourhoods, but our friends at NHM and Imperial might want to let the mayor know what they think about his endorsement of a congested and polluted Kensington.
  • This implies that the purpose of the CCharge is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.  It’s not.  Carbon emissions are important, but there are a whole suite of other equally important considerations, most notably saving our streets from the blight of continuous noisy intimidating gridlocked traffic, and saving a few of us from the particulate pollutants that kill 4-5,000 Londoners every year.  The new exemptions are an extra invitation for people to burn diesel in our streets — releasing pollutants so deadly that they would, if produced by anything other than a car, be illegal, and which will cost London taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds — so long as they keep within the 100g/km CO2 limit
  • The price is, of course, absurd and regressive.  For most of the people who would want to drive in London — the bankers and drug dealers — £9 is nothing.  They’ll spend three times as much on lunch.  And for anybody who lives more than 30 miles out, it’s probably equal to a return train ticket.  The CCharge is failing, and will continue to fail, because the price is a token price — it’s not enough to put the Motorist off, but it’s sufficient to give them a sense that they have paid for a service, and are owed something in return, something that pedestrians, bus passengers, and cyclists have not paid for and are not owed.  The CCharge is the greatest example of our town planners attempting to manage the harm caused by car use, without actually solving the problem.  This practice is elsewhere exemplified by one-way systems, traffic signals, speed cameras, bus lanes, double-yellow lines, and forests of road signs.  Easily ignored, often useless, and yet frequently cited as evidence of the “War On The Motorist”.  Managing the problem isn’t working.  It’s time to simply close the central zone roads to any motor vehicle that doesn’t have a very good reason for being there.

I’m not really sure what I’m asking the mayor to do.  Strengthen the CCharge as an interim solution, until the problem can be tackled properly, I think.

(Tip of the hat to Clean Air London, @CleanAirLondon.)