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.

 
 
 
 

What it's been like living in one of the few places that never locked down

People enjoy sunny weather in Tantolunden park in Stockholm on May 30, 2020, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. (Henrik Montgomery/TT News Agency/AFP via Getty Images)

While most of the Western world was confined to their homes for the better part of two months this spring, my friends and I in Stockholm continued hanging out. In stark contrast to most other places, we went to restaurants (occasionally, outside when possible), to one another’s houses (in our yards when possible), and even sent our kids to school. As the rest of the world opens up again, not much will change in Stockholm.

As an American expat living in the Swedish capital, I was initially angry at Sweden’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. In my home country, early outbreaks in locations such as Seattle, New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area led to strict rules that were soon mirrored in many other states and cities. The Swedish strategy, meanwhile, boiled down mostly to recommendations: If possible, work from home; avoid unnecessary travel within the country; engage in social distancing; and if you’re above 70, stay home. I felt that, in the face of a global pandemic, a country known for its generous welfare policies – that took such good care of its citizens – wasn’t doing its part to protect us.

My friends and I are mostly expats with young families who, early on, pulled our children out of school against official policy. (Schools here only closed for those 16 and over.) We eagerly waited to hear what further action our current country would take. Surely a country known for its progressive social policies would take fast, decisive action to protect its citizens?

The regulations that were put into place in Sweden amounted to restricting public gatherings to no more than 50 people (reduced from 500, which concert halls skirted by restricting entry to 499), limiting restaurants to table service only, and no visiting retirement homes. People here did take the work-from-home guidelines to heart – no one I knew was going in to work. But bars and restaurants were full. My Instagram feed was a highlight reel of acquaintances clinking champagne flutes at the city’s major clubs and restaurants.

After the first few weeks, I slowly started meeting up with friends again. I sent my kids back to school, where they intentionally spent most of the day outdoors and drop-offs were restricted to outside only (parents weren’t allowed to enter the building). I was careful to take precautions like bringing hand sanitizer to playgrounds and wiping my hands after opening and closing the gate to school. Hardly anyone wore masks to the grocery shop or inside stores – the few times I’ve seen people wearing them I’ve done a double take. One busy Friday night in late April at the local supermarket there was a line out the door and someone regulating the number of customers allowed inside at the same time. I took a photo and sent it to my family in the US saying “Sweden finally catching up with the rest of the world!” (I haven’t seen entry to that store being regulated since.)

When I spoke to Swedish friends about the strategy many agreed with the relaxed approach, mentioning that other countries’ draconian measures would be unnecessary in Sweden. A recent poll showed that just 11% of people in Sweden felt they did not trust state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, who is leading the strategy. In this country, the onus was placed on citizens themselves to follow recommendations. It's about personal judgement and individual responsibility within a framework that rested on mutual trust, rather than top-down control. Swedes’ high level of interpersonal trust and trust in authority was often cited in the press as the characteristic enabling the relaxed Swedish strategy in tackling the virus, as opposed to social distancing becoming a matter of surveillance and policing like in Spain or Italy, where any nonessential socializing was forbidden.

In early May, Sweden's ambassador to the US Karin Ulrika Olofsdotter said in an interview with the Washington Post that some media outlets made it look “like everyone in Sweden is out drinking and partying,” she said. “That is not the case.” But that was certainly how it felt to me. According to research by Esteban Ortiz-Ospina and Max Roser in 2016, in countries such as Norway, Sweden and Finland, more than 60% of respondents in the World Value Survey think that people can be trusted. And in the other extreme, in countries such as Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador and Peru, less than 10% think that this is the case.


Of course, many places in the US also took a similarly relaxed approach to tackling the pandemic, with conservative lawmakers and anti-lockdown activists citing Sweden as taking the right approach. Sweden, rarely finding cheerleaders among conservative US circles, suddenly stood as an example to follow. But since then, places such as Arizona, Texas and Florida have all seen significant spikes in cases following reopenings and are being deemed the new epicentres of the virus – while Sweden’s numbers have stabilised. According to some reports, the death toll in Sweden is one of the highest in the world per capita, but the total number of Swedish deaths remains at just above 5,000, compared to over 120,000 in the US, over 43,000 in the UK, over 28,000 in Spain and over 34,000 in Italy. The mortality rate in Sweden and the number of new intensive care cases in the country declined in the last week and contagion rates here are now “stable” according to the WHO.

Although it didn’t always feel like it at the time, Sweden issued clear guidance from the beginning, with the expectation that people would choose to follow it. It certainly was my experience that everyone I knew stopped going into the office and started working from home. William Hanage, an associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard’s School of Public Health, attributed Sweden’s slowing of the virus to implementing guidance early on. “Sweden’s policy is unusual in that it took a much less stringent approach to preventing transmission," he says, "but interestingly it implemented those measures at a very early stage in the pandemic, before large amounts of community spread had occurred.”

Now I go outside and all too often realise I’ve left my hand sanitiser at home. I even met a friend for lunch outdoors at a busy cafe one particularly sunny day, and another indoors one Friday night for dinner. In May I had a birthday bash in my garden with a dozen or so friends and we ended up at the local bar. I always felt guilty after, as if I’d done something wrong that I couldn’t tell my family in Baltimore about. When I watched international news or spoke to family back home I would feel a certain cognitive dissonance between my own seemingly low-risk reality and what I knew to be happening in the rest of the world. My family in the US calls me skeptically questioning why I’ve had people over in my garden, or been out to eat. I can’t explain the lack of logic that permits an entire city’s citizens to operate life as normal in the midst of a global pandemic. But Stockholm has become a bubble of exactly this.

Being relatively young and healthy, I’m not so worried about getting sick. Even though young and healthy people have gotten seriously ill, there haven’t been any reported cases at my kids’ or any of my friends’ kids’ schools. Nobody I know in Stockholm knows has gotten sick, allowing me to feel a certain distance from it. But my husband’s parents are in their mid-70s and weren’t able to see their grandchildren for two months save for a few visits to their hallway, where we wave and blow kisses to them standing at the door.

I’ve been grateful – but also felt a sense of guilt for – my freedom here. When there are no hard and fast rules about how to act, it’s easy to constantly question yourself: Is it really okay to be outside, sitting at this full cafe? Is it okay to invite a few friends over for a birthday? Is it okay to send my kids to school? These questions have surely gone through minds around the world in the past several weeks, and now it’s clear that that behaviour had dire consequences in some cities and not others.

While Swedish social media at times suggests an endless friend-filled party at summer homes and popular hangouts, the reality here is a balancing act between personal judgement and the freedom to continue life as normal. Self-regulation is what it comes down to in Sweden, anyway.

Elysha Krupp is a writer and editor currently living in Stockholm.