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.


The Adam Smith Institute thinks size doesn’t matter when housing young professionals. It’s wrong

A microhome, of sorts. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

The Adam Smith Institute has just published ‘Size Doesn’t Matter’, a report by Vera Kichanova, which argues that eliminating minimum space requirements for flats would help to solve the London housing crisis. The creation of so-called ‘micro-housing’ would allow those young professionals who value location over size to live inside the most economically-active areas of London, the report argues argues.

But the report’s premises are often mistaken – and its solutions sketchy and questionable.

To its credit, it does currently diagnose the roots of the housing crisis: London’s growing population isn’t matched by a growing housing stock. Kichanova is self-evidently right in stating that “those who manage to find accomodation [sic] in the UK capital have to compromise significantly on their living standards”, and that planning restrictions and the misnamed Green Belt are contributing to this growing crisis.

But the problems start on page 6, when Kichanova states that “the land in central, more densely populated areas, is also used in a highly inefficient way”, justifying this reasoning through an assertion that half of Londoners live in buildings up to two floors high. In doing so, she incorrectly equates high-rise with density: Kichanova, formerly a Libertarian Party councillor in Moscow, an extraordinarily spread-out city with more than its fair share of tall buildings, should know better.

Worse, the original source for this assertion refers to London as a whole: that means it includes the low-rise areas of outer London, rather than just the very centrally located Central Activities Zone (CAZ) – the City, West End, South Bank and so forth – with which the ASI report is concerned. A leisurely bike ride from Knightsbridge to Aldgate would reveal that single or two-storey buildings are almost completely absent from those parts of London that make up the CAZ.

Kichanova also argues that a young professional would find it difficult to rent a flat in the CAZ. This is correct, as the CAZ covers extremely upmarket areas like Mayfair, Westminster, and Kensington Gardens (!), as well as slightly more affordable parts of north London, such as King’s Cross.

Yet the report leaps from that quite uncontroversial assertion to stating that living outside the CAZ means a commute of an hour or more per day. This is a strawman: it’s perfectly possible to keep your commuting time down, even living far outside of the CAZ. I live in Archway and cycle to Bloomsbury in about twenty minutes; if you lived within walking distance of Seven Sisters and worked in Victoria, you would spend much less than an hour a day on the Tube.

Kichanova supports her case by apparently misstating research by some Swiss economists, according to whom a person with an hour commute to work has to earn 40 per cent more money to be as satisfied as someone who walks. An hour commute to work means two hours travelling per day – by any measure a different ballpark, which as a London commuter would mean living virtually out in the Home Counties.

Having misidentified the issue, the ASI’s solution is to allow the construction of so-called micro-homes, which in the UK refers to homes with less than the nationally-mandated minimum 37m2 of floor space. Anticipating criticism, the report disparages “emotionally charged epithets like ‘rabbit holes’ and ‘shoeboxes,” in the very same paragraph which describes commuting as “spending two hours a day in a packed train with barely enough air to breath”.

The report suggests browsing Dezeen’s examples of designer micro-flats in order to rid oneself of the preconception that tiny flats need mean horrible rabbit hutches. It uses weasel words – “it largely depends on design whether a flat looks like a decent place to live in” – to escape the obvious criticism that, nice-looking or not, tiny flats are few people’s ideal of decent living. An essay in the New York Times by a dweller of a micro-flat describes the tyranny of the humble laundry basket, which looms much larger than life because of its relative enormity in the author’s tiny flat; the smell of onion which lingers for weeks after cooking a single dish.

Labour London Assembly member Tom Copley has described being “appalled” after viewing a much-publicised scheme by development company U+I. In Hong Kong, already accustomed to some of the smallest micro-flats in the world, living spaces are shrinking further, leading Alice Wu to plead in an opinion column last year for the Hong Kong government to “regulate flat sizes for the sake of our mental health”.

Amusingly, the Dezeen page the ASI report urges a look at includes several examples directly contradicting its own argument. One micro-flat is 35 m2, barely under minimum space standards as they stand; another is named the Shoe Box, a title described by Dezeen as “apt”. So much for eliminating emotionally-charged epithets.

The ASI report readily admits that micro-housing is suitable only for a narrow segment of Londoners; it states that micro-housing will not become a mass phenomenon. But quite how the knock-on effects of a change in planning rules allowing for smaller flats will be managed, the report never makes clear. It is perfectly foreseeable that, rather than a niche phenomenon confined to Zone 1, these glorified student halls would become common for early-career professionals, as they have in Hong Kong, even well outside the CAZ.

There will always be a market for cheap flats, and many underpaid professionals would leap at the chance to save money on their rent, even if that doesn’t actually mean living more centrally. The reasoning implicit to the report is that young professionals would be willing to pay similar rents to normal-sized flats in Zones 2-4 in order to live in a smaller flat in Zone 1.

But the danger is that developers’ response is simply to build smaller flats outside Zone 1, with rent levels which are lower per flat but higher per square metre than under existing rules. As any private renter in London knows, it’s hardly uncommon for landlords to bend the rules in order to squeeze as much profit as possible out of their renters.

The ASI should be commended for correctly diagnosing the issues facing young professionals in London, even if the solution of living in a room not much bigger than a bed is no solution. A race to the bottom is not a desirable outcome. But to its credit, I did learn something from the report: I never knew the S in ASI stood for “Slum”.