Tag Archives: pollution

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…

Advertisements

Weekly War Bulletin, 11 Dec

Ken Livingstone has picked Val Shawcross as running partner.  Val chairs the assembly transport committee and has experience with both the outer and inner boroughs, so from a transport perspective, she’s probably the best person for the job.  She wants people to get out of their cars (including Olympics VIPs).  It’s worrying, though, that despite commissioning the cycle superhighway survey and stating that she “wants to know what what would get you cycling”, she hasn’t quite acknowledged yet that the result of the survey was a massive call for proper cycle paths.

The Scottish Transport Minister, Stewart Stevenson, resigned for his slow response to the snow.  By his criteria, Boris would have resigned several times over by now.  Truck drivers in Scotland have been allowed to work overtime — because safety rules matter less when it’s icy?  Of course, making sure that petrol stations have supplies is more important than preventing overworked truckers driving into a fuel tanker.

And according to BBC News, SouthEastern management have made up for all their snow-related customer service failings by, erm, turning up to their long-scheduled recurring meeting with passengers.  No resignations (or franchise forfeit) there, yet, then?

There are no drink-driving TV adverts this year — after all, the government has ended the War On The Motorist!  In Oxford, the annual police operation has caught twice as many wannabe killers as last year.  (I’d be cautious about concluding that one caused the other on such a small and non-controlled sample, though.)

Absurd innovation of week: yet another device to allow Motorists to pay less attention.

South Yorkshire are “trialling” a speed camera switch off.  Uh, haven’t we done enough “trials” to know what happens there?

And in South Wales, Motorists demonstrate their contempt for the lives of the people who are building roads for them.

There are record numbers riding the railways in London — but for how much longer?

While it’s hard to give a damn about car parking charge increases when you don’t have a car, it does seem unfortunate that the rising price of station car parking (at the same time as 13% p.a. fares hikes) appears to be making people give up the train rather than the car — one in four say they’re considering switching.

And a government adviser’s report suggests that we can cut overcrowding, by, erm, charging much more to use overcrowded trains.

Labour are reconsidering high speed rail, while the Tories are promising to keep those Tory voters along its route happy with fabulous cash payouts.

The Campaign for Clean Air in London are threatening to challenge Boris in court over the removal of the Western Extension Congestion Charge Zone.  Waste of public money if it goes to court?  No news outlet I can find mentions the massive EU penalties for poor air quality (many times the cost of a court case), or the vast numbers (much greater than direct road deaths) of otherwise economically-active people who are disabled and killed by pollution-related diseases.  Meanwhile our own Green MEPs are encouraging the EU to reject the mayor’s application for an extension to the deadline for complying with those air quality laws.

That runaway Northern Line train was both human error and faulty equipment.

The Met are looking at thousands of people’s Oyster records behind their backs.

Having cut back on customer services, SouthEastern are looking for more staff savings: look forward to strike action in the new year.

Somebody’s stealing the pavements in Camden.

Apparently a couple in a ridiculous chauffeur driven car got viciously attacked by a mob of rioting thugs?  They should have ridden inconspicuous hire bikes to their appointment…

“Grannies don’t like being thrown around”: cuts to pensioner bus travel will mean dedicated crap bus services for them.

(I’m late to this story, but had to post it.)  Ferrari driver who “unwittingly” drove around at 100mph is allowed to continue driving because he is reliant upon the car for his hospital treatment.  Apparently ferrari owners can’t afford bus fares, and they don’t have taxis in Devon…

And for some reason not allowing blue badge holders to use the olympic lanes is considered an outrage too far.  How will builders get to their jobs now?

The RV1 riverside bus has gone hydrogen powered, in order to test the technology.  The hydrogen production requires electricity, and the electricity is still mostly generated by burning coal and gas.  It might at least reduce the particulate pollution given off by these vehicles (or shift them back to the out-of-town power station, anyway).

Here’s an updated tube map for the day London goes under the waves.

I don’t often cover news outside of the UK, but: this is just how they drive in China; and this story from NZ made me giggle — they seem surprised that building a new motorway caused congestion.  Has NZ learned nothing from the mistakes that Europe made forty years ago?

Your moment of zen: the mayor’s Christmas card:

I took the opportunity to pen a few lines on this occasion.

We three kings of Orient are,
One in a taxi, one in a car,
One on a Boris Bike beating the tube strike,
None of them getting far.

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.)

When you start paying road tax…

The Grauniad reports that London is about to breach its annual allowance of “bad air days”.  The consequence of the city’s authorities’ impotence in preventing summer smogs is that they will be fined £300m.  Three hundred million pounds.

And four to five thousand people will die prematurely every year.

That’s twenty five times as many people as die in “collisions” on London’s roads; more even than get seriously injured.

The Guardian rightly chastise the authorities — primarily the mayor — for their hopeless incompetence in allowing such a massive preventable loss of life to occur, and for throwing away such a vast quantity of our money at a time when we’re all being told we must tighten our belts.  It was Boris’s absurd decision to reduce the congestion charge footprint, and his pointless delaying of the low emission zone introduction that are to blame, they say.  They come so close to identifying the problem.  And yet they don’t actually mention it: they don’t name the actual source of the problem.  Why do we have smogs?  The politicians are to blame for ignoring the problem, but who created the problem in the first place?

We have smogs in London because a dangerous minority of the population are invited to burn oil in our streets; because a selfish minority elect to use a singularly inappropriate method of transporting themselves across it.  We have smogs because the public has chosen to devote vast tracts of land and sophisticated expensive infrastructure to the proposition that driving into central London is acceptable behaviour.  We have smogs because London’s authorities have simply decided that what the city needs is twenty one thousand dirty diesel burning black cabs running around half empty all day, every day; needs them so much that they are to be given an even freer reign over our city than the already free reign given to private cars and trucks.

We have smogs because people don’t consider or care for the consequences of their actions.  And we have smogs because some people think that the consequences don’t matter because they’re paying for it.  “When you start paying road tax and insurance and get a number plate and MOT…”

Your and my council tax will be paying for London’s £300 million fine; a collective punishment for the selfish behaviour of the few.  Meanwhile, no amount of any tax will make it OK for five thousand Londoners to die slowly, painfully, miserably, rasping through ruined lungs.