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.


Leeds is still haunted by its pledge to be the “Motorway City of the Seventies”

Oh, Leeds. Image: mtaylor848/Wikimedia Commons.

As the local tourist board will no doubt tell you, Leeds has much to be proud of: grandiose industrial architecture in the form of faux-Egyptian temples and Italian bell-towers; an enduring cultural legacy as the birthplace of Goth, and… motorways. But stand above the A58(M) – the first “urban motorway”  in the country – and you might struggle to pinpoint its tourist appeal.

Back in the 1970s, though, the city council was sufficiently gripped by the majesty of the motorways to make them a part of its branding. Letters sent from Leeds were stamped with a postmark proudly proclaiming the city's modernity: “Leeds, Motorway City of the Seventies”.

Image: public domain.

During the 1960s, post-war optimism and an appetite for grand civic projects saw the rapid construction of motorways across England. The construction of the M1 began in 1959; it reached Leeds, its final destination, in 1968. By the early 1970s the M62 was sweeping across Pennines, and the M621 loop was constructed to link it to Leeds city centre.

Not content with being the meeting point of two major motorways, Leeds was also the first UK city to construct a motorway through the city centre: the inner ring road, which incorporates the short motorway stretches of the A58(M) and the A64(M). As the council put it in 1971, “Leeds is surging forward into the Seventies”.

The driving force behind Leeds' love of motorways was a mix of civic pride and utopian city planning. Like many industrial cities in the North and Midlands, Leeds experienced a decline in traditional manufacturing during the 1960s. Its position at the centre of two major motorways seemed to offer a brighter future as a dynamic city open for trade, with the infrastructure to match. In response to the expansion of the roads, 1970s council planners also constructed an elevated pedestrian “skywalk” in an attempt to free up space for cars at ground level. Photos of Leeds from that time show a thin, white walkway running through blocky office buildings – perhaps not quite as extensive as the futuristic urban landscape originally envisaged by planners, but certainly a visual break with the past.

Fast forward to 2019 and Leeds’ efforts to become a “Motorway City” seems like a kitsch curiosity from a decade that was not always known for sustainable planning decisions. Leeds’s historic deference to the car has serious consequences in the present: in February 2019, Neville Street – a busy tunnel that cuts under Leeds station – was found to contain the highest levels of NO2 outside London.

City centre planners did at least have the foresight to sink stretches of the inner motorways below street level, leaving pedestrian routes largely undisturbed. Just outside the centre, though, the roads can be more disruptive. Sheepscar Interchange is a bewildering tangle of arterial roads, Armley Gyratory strikes fear into the hearts of learner drivers, and the M621 carves unsympathetically through inner-city areas of South Leeds with pedestrian access restricted to narrow bridges that heighten the sense of a fragmented landscape.


Leeds inner ring road in its cutting. Image: author provided.


The greatest problem for Yorkshire's “Motorway City” in 2019, however, is not the occasional intimidating junction, but the complete lack of an alternative to car travel. The dire state of public transport in Leeds has already been raised on these pages. In the early 20th century Leeds had one of the most extensive tram networks in the country. The last lines closed in 1959, the same year construction began on the A58m.

The short-sightedness of this decision was already recognised in the 1970s, as traffic began to build. Yet plans for a Leeds Supertram were rejected by successive Conservative and Labour governments unwilling to front the cost, even though smaller cities such as Newcastle and Sheffield were granted funding for light transport systems. Today, Leeds is the largest city in the EU without a mass transit system. As well as creating congestion, the lack of viable public transport options prevents connectivity: the city's bus network is reasonable, but weaker from East to West than North to South. As a non-driver, I've turned down jobs a short drive away that would be a logistical impossibility without a car.

Leeds' early enthusiasm for the motorway was perhaps premature, but there are things we can learn from the 1970s. Whatever else can be said about it, Leeds' city transport strategy was certainly bold – a quality in short supply today, after proposals for the supertram were watered down to a trolleybus system before being scrapped altogether in 2016. Leeds' rapid transformation in the 1960s and 70s, its grandiose visions of skywalks and dual carriageways, were driven by strong local political will. Today, the long-term transport strategy documents on Leeds City Council's website say more about HS2 than the need for a mass transit system within Leeds itself, and the council has been accused of giving up the fight for light rail and trams.

Whilst central government's refusal to grant funds is the greatest obstacle to Leeds' development, the local authority needs to be far more vocal in demanding the transport system the city deserves. Leeds' desire to be the Motorway City of the Seventies might look ludicrous today, but the political drive and utopian optimism that underpinned it does not.