Six things other cities can learn from Transport for London's success

We've come a long way, baby: a brand new bus in 1920. Image: AFP/Getty.

Complaining about public transport might seem as English as moaning about the weather. And it isn’t very British to shout about success. So what follows might seem odd, but here goes:

Transport for London leads the way as an effective transport authority.

There, I've said it.

It does so by building popular and political consensus around the importance and urgency of transport investment. Step by step, the city reliant on  Victorian suburban railways and a 150 year old underground network increases its fitness to cater to the demands of a growing 21st-century city.

Transport for London has succeeded by creating an integrated transport authority from the fragmented patchwork of services it has inherited piece by piece since 2000. Today, 30m journeys are completed on TfL’s network every day. A testament to the TfL model is that both Sydney and Auckland adopted many aspects of it. Here are six lessons from its success that other cities can follow.

1. An integrated network

Under the iconic TfL brand, different public transport modes were integrated to provide end-to-end services. Unlike other transport authorities, TfL also manages the main roads and streets in London, as part of which it is in charge of cycling, taxi and mini cab regulation, traffic signalling and congestion charging.

A testament to the successful integration of the different types of transport on offer is the significant growth in public transport usage, in particular bus services. Since 2003, the percentage of car users has dropped by ten points. And the success of cycling policies and campaigners' efforts is reflected in the rapid increase in cycling uptake.

 

These have helped. Image: Rob Stothard/Getty.

2. It's easy to use

The transport system has become easy to use with the introduction of smart ticketing in the shape of the Oyster card in 2007 and cashless payment cards in 2014, allowing people to use their debit and credit cards.

By making data on their services openly available to app developers, many transport apps for London have been created which make the use of the network easy and accessible. Clear network maps at stations and street maps across the city make getting around easier and more hassle-free.


Since TfL was created in 2000, investment in the system has created a more reliable and safe system. For example, on London Underground reliability has improved significantly, with the excess journey time due to delays reduced by 40 per cent since 2000. Clean and staffed stations create a safer and more welcoming environment for passengers to use.

3. It has strong leadership

Key to TfL’s success is having a vocal and charismatic mayor to champion the transport agenda and secure political and financial support for it. The Mayor of London chairs the TfL board and currently spends £11bn – two-thirds of his annual budget – on transport via TfL. This is three times more than on policing and 21 times more than on the fire brigade.

TfL’s revenues from fare and advertising cover only half its costs. To bridge the shortfall TfL relies on grants and borrowing. For these it is vital for TfL to drum up support across the political spectrum. Cross-party support ensures long-term funding security. It allows the transport authority to plan into the future and reduces the risk of projects being stopped midway through.

As a directly elected, executive mayor, London’s incumbent holds significant power. He has both the mandate and authority to realise his vision for the city’s transport. Without it, policies such as the congestion charging scheme in central London may not have been implemented. The potential downside, however, is that more contentious projects (the Emirates-sponsored cable car and the garden bridge spring to mind), both celebrated by the incumbent mayor, Boris Johnson, and supported by TfL funds, can also gain traction.

4. Unlocking potential

Transport is key to realising the mayor’s vision for London as a whole. With statutory responsibility for transport, land use and economic development, the three are seen as interdependent. Transport is therefore developed in a way that unlocks new development sites and facilitates the continued growth of the city’s industries.

The Olympics marked a shift in this thinking. TfL was no longer in the business of just transport service provision – instead, its role evolved to be part of wider mayoral objectives, whether to promote London as an attractive business centre, a liveable green city – or to tackle the housing crisis. By promoting its supportive role in the delivery of wider objectives, TfL becomes a key player in shaping London and strengthens its position for funding and involvement.

Charismatic, to say the least. Image: EPA/Facundo Arrizabalaga.

5. Thinking strategically

Transport for London’s role is a strategic planner rather than an operator. With the exception of London Underground, which is wholly owned and run by TfL, the network is run on a concession system: TfL plans and manages the network, while private companies run the service.

For example, Transport for London will stipulate a bus services’ route, frequency and service hours. The private company will run the buses, employ the bus drivers and supervise the depot for a fee. London will carry the revenue risk, the risk that fare income will not cover the cost of the service provision. By taking on that risk TfL reduces the cost of the service provision. All buses, the Docklands Light Railway and the London Overground are provided in this way.

Even though TfL does not run the service, TfL branding is used on all concessions and worn by staff to present a integrated and recognisable network to the passenger.

6. Building on its successes

Transport for London seeks to take over more of the transport network within the Greater London boundary. Building on the success of the Olympics and London Overground, TfL is campaigning to take over more of the rail network in Greater London. A recent report indicates how much of the Greater London rail network TfL may take over:

The rail services that TfL could one day control. Image: NERA consulting.

In the immediate future TfL has set its sights on routes terminating outside the authority boundary in neighbouring counties of Kent and Surrey, southeast of London.

TfL’s London Overground provides a good model for further suburban rail takeovers. For just over £1bn, a neglected urban railway infrastructure was combined to create an orbital network. The route boasts high passenger satisfaction levels, which reflect the investment in clean, well-staffed and safe stations that are fully integrated into the TfL transport network. Since TfL took over in 2007, passenger numbers have increased five foldfrom 2.5m to 13.5m.

There’s clearly a lot to learn from TfL’s success. The Conversation

Nicole Badstuber is PhD Researcher and Research Assistant in Transport Policy and Governance at University College London at UCL.

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

 
 
 
 

To see how a city embraces remote work, just look to Helsinki

A deeply rooted culture of trust is crucial to the success of remote work. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

When I speak to Anssi Salminen, an account manager who lives an hour outside Helsinki, he’s working from a wooden platform on the edge of a Finnish lake. With a blanket laid out and his laptop set up, the sun low in the sky, Anssi’s remote work arrangement seems blissful. 

“I spend around half of my time working somewhere else other than the office,” he says. “I can work from home, or on the go, and I also travel to the Netherlands once a month and work from there.

“The emphasis in my work has always been that it doesn’t matter when or where I work, as long as I get things done.”

For many people around the world, the shift to remote work was sudden, sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. Finland, however, is finding the transition much less significant. Before Covid-19, the Nordic nation already displayed impressive levels of remote working, with 14.1% of its workforce reporting usually working from home. Only the Netherlands has a comparable percentage of remote workers, while the UK lagged behind at 4.7%, and the US’s remote workforce lingered at around 3.6%

Anssi works for one of many Helsinki-based companies that offers its employees flexible policies around when and where they work. That arrangement is in part due to the Finnish capital’s thriving start-up scene. In spite of being a relatively small city by global standards it is home to over 500 technology start-ups. These companies are leading the way when it comes to keeping employees connected wherever they choose to work.

“Our company has a completely location-free working policy,” says Kasper Pöyry, the CEO of Helsinki-headquartered software company Gapps. “All meetings are made available for online participants and facilitated accordingly. Some employees have worked extensively from abroad on a working holiday, whilst others prefer the comfort and social aspects of the well-stocked office. Whatever works for our employees is what works for the company.”

Like Gapps, many Helsinki-based firms are deeply preoccupied with providing the necessary technology to attract talent in a vast and sparsely populated country. Finland has only 15 inhabitants per square kilometre, and companies understand that in order to compose teams of specialised expertise, they may have to seek talent outside of the city. Local governments take a similarly proactive stance toward technological access, and Helsinki offers free, unrestricted, high-speed Wi-Fi from city-wide hotspots, while the country as a whole boasts some of the best coverage in Europe. 

But encouraging remote work isn’t just about optimising the potential of Finland’s workforce – companies in Helsinki also recognise that flexibility has clear benefits for both staff and employees. 

“The idea of a good work-life balance is ingrained in Finnish culture,” says Johannes Anttila, a consultant at organisational think tank Demos Helsinki. “It goes back to our rich history of social dialogue between labour unions and employers, but also to an interest in delineating the rules of working life and pushing towards people being able to enjoy their private life. Helsinki has been named the best city in the world for work-life balance, and I think that this underlies a lot of the mentality around remote work.” 

For Peter Seenan, the extent to which Helsinki residents value their free time and prioritise a work-life balance prompted his move to the city ten years ago. He now works for Finnair, and points to Finland’s summer cottages as an example of how important taking time to switch off is for people in the country. These rural residences, where city residents regularly uproot to enjoy the Nordic countryside, are so embedded in Finnish life that the country boasts around 1.8 million of them for its 5.5 million residents

“Flexible and remote work are very important to me because it means that I don’t feel like I’m getting stuck in a routine that I can’t control easily,” he says. “When I’m working outside of the office I’ll go down to my local sauna and go ice swimming during the working day, typically at lunchtime or mid-morning, and I’ll feel rejuvenated afterwards… In winter time especially, flexibility is important because it makes it easier to go outside during daylight hours. It’s certainly beneficial for my physical and mental health, and as a result my productivity improves.”

The relaxed attitude to working location seems to pay off – Finland is regularly named the happiest country in the world, scoring highly on measures such as how often its residents exercise and how much leisure time they enjoy. With large swathes of unspoiled countryside and a national obsession with the outdoors, sustainability is at the forefront of its inhabitants’ minds, leading to high levels of support for measures to limit commuting. In January, Finland passed a new Working Hours Act, the goal of which was to help better coordinate employee’s work and leisure time. Central to this is cementing in law that employees can independently decide how, when, and where they work.

Yet enacting the new ruling is not as simple as just sending employees home with their laptops. For Kirsimarja Blomqvist, a professor of knowledge management at LUT University, perhaps the most fundamental feature that remote work relies upon is a deeply rooted culture of trust, which Helsinki’s residents speak of with pride. The anecdotal evidence is backed up by data which suggests that Finland boasts one of the highest levels of trust and social cohesion in Europe, and equality and transparency have always been key cornerstones of political thought in the country.

“Trust is part of a national culture in Finland – it’s important and people value it highly,” she explains. “There’s good job independence, and people are valued in terms of what they do, not how many hours they work for. Organisations tend to be non-hierarchical, and there is a rich history of cooperation between trade unions, employers, and employees to set up innovative working practices and make workers feel trusted and valued. 

“It’s now important that we ensure that this trust can continue to be built over technology, when workers might have been more used to building it face-to-face.”

As companies begin to look hopefully toward a post-Covid future, the complexities of remote work are apparent. Yet amid issues of privacy, presenteeism, and social isolation, the Helsinki model demonstrates the potential benefits of a distanced working world. The adjustment to remote work, if continued after the crisis, offers a chance to improve companies’ geographical diversity and for employers to demonstrate trust in their workforce. On these issues, Blomqvist believes other cities and employers can learn a lot from Helsinki.

“People are now beginning to return to their workplaces, but even as they do they are starting to consider the crisis as a jumping point to an even more remote future,” she says. “The coronavirus pandemic has been an eye-opener, and people are now interested in learning from Finland’s good practices… We are able to see the opportunity, and the rapid transition to remote work will allow other countries to do the same.”

Katie Bishop is a freelance writer based in Oxford.