London elects: Zac Goldsmith and Sadiq Khan are both depressively poor on transport

Sort it out, [insert name of next mayor here]. Image: Getty.

Each week, the equivalent of two busy tube carriages of people move to London. As the capital’s population grows, so does the strain on its public transport system.

On Thursday, the polls predict that London will elect either Labour’s Sadiq Khan or the Conservative’s Zac Goldsmith as the next mayor – and in doing so, endorse the winner’s vision for the capital’s public transport network. Transport is the area that the mayor has the most say over – indeed, two thirds of the mayor’s annual budget goes towards it (£11.5bn in 2015-16).

But even with such significant powers to play for, both of the key mayoral candidates have largely failed to come up with a visionary, coherent plan to cope with the capital’s major transport issues.

Freezing fares

Sadiq Khan’s headline pledge to freeze public transport fares at 2016 prices for the whole of the mayor’s four-year term is an eye-catching policy (they currently increase in line with inflation, plus 1 per cent). It’s aimed at reducing the transport cost burden for low-income families. Khan estimates the policy’s price tag at £450m for the term – much less than the Transport for London (TfL) estimate of £1.5bn. Khan also proposes to overhaul the bus fare structure: A one-hour bus pass – unlimited bus trips for an hour instead of paying for each bus separately.

He proposes to pay for it by finding efficiencies within TfL, and reducing the use of consultants and contractors. He would also lease TfL land for development, have TfL bid to run services outside London and sell TfL’s expertise – much like London Transport International, the transport consultancy trading arm of TfL’s predecessor, which advised metros around the world from the mid-1970s to mid-1990s.

It will be difficult for TfL to absorb the fare freeze cost just by being thrifty, because any efficiencies are already earmarked to bridge the national government’s £2.8bn cut to TfL’s grants, for the period up to 2020. Any failure to bridge these budget gaps with money-saving measures will mean raising fares, scaling back programmes or striking projects altogether.

Offering concessionary fares to those who struggle to pay for public transport could be a more targeted intervention, without such a high price tag.

Train take-over

Both candidates are calling for TfL to take over management of the railways in London. They want to replicate the success of the London Overground, the orbital network created between 2007 and 2012, after TfL took over underused railway routes .The model, which promises more frequent services, greater connectivity and safer, cleaner stations is popular. Last year the Greater London Assembly called for the Overground model to be adopted across South London.

The UK government’s Department for Transport (DfT) holds the keys to greater rail devolution: only it can transfer responsibility for managing the routes to TfL. A recent joint DfT and TfL publication suggests a move to more TfL involvement in managing London rail services. In theory, Transport for London could adopt the first South London routes in 2018, as franchises expire.

But the success of the London Overground orbital hinged on large scale capital investment. There has been little to no discussion of how these levels of investment might be secured for the south London venture – undermining its potential to be a success from the the outset.

Crossrail 2

Proposed route for Crossrail 2, as of autumn 2015. Click to expand. Image: Transport for London.

Both Khan and Goldsmith have also pledged to work with government to build Crossrail 2 – a rail link running through the centre of London from the South West to the North East. The National Infrastructure Commission recently concluded that without it, London “would grind to a halt”.

The project is already being jointly developed by TfL and Network Rail. The government just has committed £80m of funding towards planning the project. There is also widespread support for Crossrail 2 in principle from stakeholders, in particular the business community and the public.

It’s estimated to cost between £27bn and £32bn – double the cost of the first Crossrail project. But neither of the candidates have put forward a coherent plan for funding.

Serving the south

Proposed Bakerloo line extension. Click to expand. Image: Transport for London.

Khan also promises to secure funding for the Bakerloo tube line extension to south London. TfL are already developing a technically detailed case, after it found that 96 per cent of Londoners supported further extension southwards from the current terminus at Elephant and Castle.

Goldsmith promises to start planning the extension, but will prioritise new trains and signalling across the network in the shorter term. However, he does commit to extending the tram in south London (Khan considers this a project for the longer-term). TfL has already committed £100m, but the project has been stalled as contributions of £200m from the local boroughs have not yet been secured. Goldsmith does not say whether he would push forward without local contributions.

Night tube

London was to get its first all-night weekend tube services in September 2015. This failed following disputes between unions and management, which led to strikes. A new start date has not been set, but both candidates have committed to delivering the night tube. Khan pledges to work with the unions, while Goldsmith takes a harder line, saying he’ll clamp down on the unions' ability to strike if necessary.

Goldsmith’s manifesto proposes to expand the transport services on weekend nights to include the London Overground in 2017 and the Docklands Light Railway by 2021. But – you guessed it – TfL has already outlined that it seeks to extend the night tube to the Circle, Hammersmith and City, District and Metropolitan line once the modernisation programme is complete. London Overground and the DLR are also set to have night time services at weekends in 2017 and 2021 respectively.

It’s clear that both candidates are playing it safe by taking their lead from TfL. They are both promising to progress popular investment projects, which are already in the works. Neither has outlined a coherent plan on how to meet growing pressure on the network and finances.

Without such a strategy, TfL grant cuts will translate into fare rises, service cuts and deteriorating infrastructure. The hollow rhetoric of efficiency and portfolio development falls short of offering a plan to “keep London moving”.The Conversation

Nicole Badstuber is researcher in urban transport governance at LSE Cities at the London School of Economics and the Centre for Transport Studies, UCL

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.

So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image:

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?

And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.