Cycling growth in London tails off

The latest figures for cycling levels on the Transport for London Route Network (TLRN), London’s TfL-controlled main roads, are given in the depths of a paper to the TfL board (page 9 of this PDF). They show that the previously stellar growth of cycling in London under both Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson has ended, maybe even gone into reverse. Cycling on TLRN roads is actually forecast to fall this financial year for the first time since 2001/2.

It’s a big change from the enormous growth rates achieved in Boris’s first term – an average of just under 11 per cent a year, and more than 15 per cent in the single year 2010/11 alone, for instance. More new cycle journeys were made on the TLRN in 2011 than in any other year. By the end of 2011, more people were cycling in London than at any previous time since the beginning of mass car ownership. The Boris bikes have introduced hundreds of thousands of new people to cycling.

Not that Johnson is ever given any credit for this, of course: during the election campaign, as I mentioned at the time, the London cycle lobby chose to ignore the figures in favour of claiming that everything was terrible and it was all the mayor’s fault. I predict, however, that various opponents of Boris will be only too quick to blame him now the numbers have turned the wrong way.

That would not be entirely fair, because the quarterly breakdown for 2012 makes clear that the principal culprit was almost certainly the weather. In the first quarter of this calendar year, January to March 2012, TLRN cycling continued to grow, by 6.1 per cent over the same period the previous year . The weather in January to March was OK, or at least not much worse than usual.

But in the second quarter, April-June, TLRN cycling declined sharply – down 10.8 per cent on the previous spring. The spring of 2012 was, of course, the rainiest since records began.

Growth then resumed in the third quarter, July-September. TLRN cycling rose by 3.7 per cent on the previous summer, though this growth rate was well below TfL’s target.

Figures from the last quarter of 2012 are still awaited – but based on the spring and summer, when the majority of journeys are made, TfL is now projecting a 1.1 per cent drop in TLRN cycling for the financial year (April 2012- March 2013) as a whole.

In a funny way, the summer quarter’s figure is the most worrying. Yes, growth returned: but at a much slower rate than in previous years. True, July was pretty wet, too. Then there were the special events – the Jubilee, the Olympics – which disrupted normal travel patterns. But according to a Standard story before Christmas, the two-week period of the Olympics actually saw dramatic rises in the number of people cycling. That must mean that performance in the rest of the summer was even poorer than the overall figure says.

Cycling is a signature policy area of the mayor’s – according to Victory in London, the recent book written by Alex Crowley, political director of his successful 2012 re-election campaign, voter focus groups done during the election identified (again perhaps rather unfairly) the Boris bikes as Johnson’s principal achievement. But the figures underline that in cycling, as in anything else, you have to innovate to keep growing. The numbers show that the two big boosts to London cycling came in 2003, with the congestion charge, and 2010, with the Boris bikes. Apart from an extension of the Boris bikes to Tower Hamlets, there were no significant new developments in London cycling in 2012. TfL needs to deliver the same consistently high levels of innovation and improvement in cycling as it has managed in heavy-metal transport with the congestion charge, the Oyster card, the Overground, the new Routemaster, Crossrail, et al.

As TfL research makes clear, there remain enormous untapped reserves of pent-up demand to cycle in London. There are some good signs that radically pro-bike measures which could tap these reserves are on the way. A big increase in the cycling budget has been secured; an east-west “super corridor”  through central London (which I am told will be fully segregated) has been announced. The mayor has promised to implement three flagship “Dutch-style” cycle schemes with “segregated bike tracks where motor traffic is heaviest;” agreed to complete the cycle superhighway programme and all future junction improvements to “Dutch standards”; and pledged that cycle links through the new Nine Elms development in Vauxhall will be “better than Amsterdam.” Not all TfL’s latest schemes live up to these promises, frankly (though there are some signs of improvement.) But the summer’s anaemic growth figures suggest that such improvements, and others, are very necessary if the success of the past is to be sustained.

I’d say only one other thing. I can’t help wondering if last year’s almost all-consuming political and media emphasis on safety has helped suppress cycling. Most of what Londoners read in the paper or saw on TV about bikes in 2012 was variations, with different degrees of subtlety, on the theme that by mounting a bicycle you took your life in your hands.

Cycling in London is clearly not as safe as it should be. It is not as safe as it could be. But it is, in fact, far safer than it was. Between 2002 and 2010, per journey, the rate of London cyclists killed or seriously injured – the standard measurement –fell by more than a quarter. That was another little fact that tended to get overlooked in the excitement of the election campaign.

In the last twelve months sensible people, like Simon Hughes MP, have used words like “carnage” to describe the cycling death rate. But in 2011, the year Mr Hughes refers to, there were 180 million cycle journeys in London. Of these, 16 ended in death: that is, one journey in every 11.25 million. That is not carnage. I have seen quite enough real carnage in my day job, and I promise you can tell the difference.

An otherwise admirable report by the London Assembly made the headline-grabbing statement that cycle casualties had “increased by 50 per cent” between 2006 and 2010 without making any allowance for the growth in cycling over the period, and without making any distinction between slight casualties (where the rate per journey rose) and serious casualties (where the rate per journey fell).

But a sprained wrist should not count the same as a fractured skull. And indeed, the seriousness of casualties declined over that period. In 2006, 86.7 per cent of London cycle casualties were slight. By 2010, 88.3 per cent were.

There was, I know, a worrying increase in deaths and serious injuries in 2011, both in absolute terms and in rate per journey terms. And the emphasis on safety might end up being beneficial if it creates the political space for radical improvements to the cycling experience in London.

So we should never stop talking about safety. It is and always has been the biggest reason why people do not take up cycling. But perhaps we should think a bit more about how we talk about it.



Ken Livingstone's fares cut will save Londoners little more than a tenth of what he claims

Renewed questions about the impact of Ken’s claimed 7 per cent fares cut on TfL’s revenue were triggered by Labour’s shadow transport secretary, Maria Eagle, at the weekend when she endorsed most of the Coalition’s spending cuts on transport, including at TfL. The Tories were quick to pronounce that this made the Kenster’s big promise even more of an “unfunded sham” than they’d said already.

We’ve been over this ground before, haven’t we? TfL says Livingstone’s proposed fares cut will cost it £1.12 billion in revenue over the four years of a mayoral term – and more neutral sources than this blog, including Channel 4’s Fact Check, agree that Ken cannot make up that sum without cutting services or investment.

One new thing I just thought of, though, is the massive disconnect between these figures and what Ken is claiming his policy will save us. He has repeatedly said that his fares cut will “save the average Londoner £1000” over the four years. There are, conservatively, seven and a half million Londoners. If Ken is telling the truth about our average saving, that is a loss of revenue to TfL of 7.5 million times £1000. In other words, TfL would lose £7.5 billion, not £1.12 billion.

Losing £7.5 billion would, of course, pretty much shut down the transport system. It is more than ten years’ subsidy to the entire bus network, or almost half the cost of Crossrail. The alternative – I know you’ll be shocked to hear this – is that TfL’s estimate of its losses is correct, and Ken is lying about what Londoners will save.

Dividing £1.12 billion by 7.5 million people produces an average saving per Londoner over the four years of £149.30 – little more than a tenth of what Ken claims. The average saving per year will be £37.32 – 72p a week.

Not all that different, in other words, from the Boris Johnson cut in council tax (in this and future years) which Labour has been scoffing at – the only difference being that, with Ken, you get a cut in investment too.

Happy Christmas Aslef, says Ken Livingstone

There was a fascinating vignette on Ken and David Mellor’s LBC show on Saturday. Mick Whelan, the general secretary of the rail union Aslef, worked on a weekend to put the case for his downtrodden Tube drivers (they are, you’ll remember, striking on Boxing Day and three other days for triple time and extra holiday in lieu, even though they already get £45,000 and seven weeks’ holiday a year.)

Boxing Day is, of course, one of the key shopping days of the whole calendar – a day which London’s struggling retailers badly need to be a success. Gently probed by Mellor on whether it was fair for Aslef’s handsomely-rewarded members, in their totally secure jobs, to jeopardise the employment of much less well-paid shopworkers, Whelan came out with some classic phrases which deserve a wider audience.

“We see ourselves as stakeholders in London, we always have,” he said. “Most of your days off aren’t yours because of the strictures around alcohol and whatever.” You’d actually have to get utterly plastered on your last day off to fall foul of TfL’s alcohol policy – and I’m intrigued at the Aslef view that no leisure can be considered complete without large amounts of alcohol…or “whatever.”

“People don’t just give you your salary for nothing,” went on Whelan. Being a Tube driver was “one of the hardest, most responsible roles in transport.” By now, listeners across London were openly weeping at the sheer pathos of the drivers’ plight. Or perhaps they were just tears of laughter?

Second only to head of compliments at Virgin Trains, being a Tube driver is in fact the easiest job in transport. Unlike almost every other kind of transport employee, you almost never have to deal with the public. You never have to drive in traffic. You spend your whole time sitting down. The service pattern, with all the trains travelling at roughly the same speed along the same few routes, is nothing like as complicated as a surface railway. The system is substantially enclosed. You don’t even, on an increasing number of Tube lines, actually have to drive the train: it drives itself. All you do is sit in your chair and press a button to open and close the doors. A machine could do it – and in many cities, it does.

Ken, of course, wasn’t about to point this out. As the London Tory MP Jane Ellison, co-chair of the parliamentary retail group, noted today, Labour has taken £35,000 in donations from Aslef already this year, much of it for Ken’s campaign, and Ken personally has had nearly £40k from the union over the years. Ken ended the Whelan interview with a cheery message to his paymasters: “I suspect I’m not speaking for the unanimity of all Londoners,” he chortled. “But do have a good Christmas.”

I somehow think they will, Ken. Now how about getting round to the rest of us?

Ken Livingstone: I can't deliver my fares cut

On November 23, at a rally in Camden to promote his promised 5 per cent fares cut, Ken Livingstone said: “I wish it could be more. But unlike the Tories, we will not say anything we can’t deliver.”

Just twelve days later, Ken has decided that it can be more after all – 40 per cent more! This morning, surrounded by people dressed as Santa, he bunged up his promised cut from 5 to 7 per cent, including a cut to the Oyster single bus fare from £1.35 to £1.20.

But will Londoners believe in Father Christmas? Even the original 5 per cent, according to TfL, relied on money that is no longer in its coffers, and was totally impossible without massive cuts. So how on earth is Ken going to find a far bigger fare reduction, one that he admitted himself he “can’t deliver?”

The financial position hasn’t changed. The £136 million given to TfL by George Osborne last week is enough to moderate next year’s planned increase slightly – but nowhere near enough to actually cut the fares, let alone by 7 per cent. Indeed it may actually make it more difficult to propose a cut, because it creates a gap in TfL’s planned income in future years, after the Osborne money runs out.

What’s changed, of course, is the politics. With the Osborne money, the hated war criminal regime of Boris Johnson was able to announce at least a softening of the blow on fares. And a poll last week showed that – despite strong public support for fares cuts – Ken’s promise has made no impact at all on voting intentions.

This might be because the public doesn’t know about it. But Ken’s been campaigning on it for more than two months, and has had a great deal of publicity. More likely is that people simply don’t trust him to deliver. As we’ve documented, Ken has promised to hold down fares in every mayoral election he has ever fought – and has, every single time, broken that promise, or secretly planned to. It’s also worth remembering that in 2003 he promised not to raise the congestion charge for ten years. He raised it (by 60%) within two years.

It’s never Ken’s style to concede that something just isn’t working. Instead of accepting his mistakes and quietly dropping them, he hugs them closer, embracing and enlarging them until they finally overwhelm him. Remember “I would trust Lee Jasper with my life?” For all his attempts to present himself as the serious candidate, he has over the last six months shown himself more reckless and less disciplined than Boris, with half-a-dozen crude personal outbursts or wild policy U-turns.

And so, true to form, he has gone for double or quits on fares. But the cynicism of promising something that even he says he cannot deliver is unlikely to close Ken’s credibility gap.  Someone needs to play him one of those recorded messages about falling between the train and the (political) platform.

Boris Johnson: Tube, bus and Travelcard fares will go up by less

TfL value-for-money in action

As was reported yesterday, the Chancellor, George Osborne, will this week announce extra grants from the Treasury to moderate the big transport fare increases proposed for January. About £130 million, it is reported in the Sunday Times, will go to Transport for London.

Fares overall will still increase, and by more than inflation. But the rise is now capped to RPI plus 1 per cent instead of TfL’s previously-announced RPI plus 2 and the railways and Travelcards’ RPI plus 3.

Thus the rise in London will now average about 6 per cent across the board instead of the previously-announced 8 per cent (on Travelcards) or 7 per cent (on Oyster pay-as-you-go and cash singles.)

The actual new prices haven’t been given yet. But it should mean that, for instance, a zones 1-6 Travelcard goes up by about £120 a year instead of £160. A Zones 1-2 Travelcard will go up by about £66 a year instead of £88.

This begs a few questions. Firstly, given TfL’s massive spending on Crossrail and the like, it was intended that fares would continue to rise by RPI +2 until at least 2015. So are we simply we going to create a hole in TfL’s income that will have to be filled with even higher fare rises in 2013?

The answer is that it does look like Osborne’s £130 million (if confirmed) will be enough to last longer than one year. The originally-announced increases were due to raise £202 million next year, of which £92 million was from Travelcards and £110 million from the rest.

If the increases are now being reduced by about a seventh (or a quarter, for Travelcards) that will cost about £38 million next year, leaving another £92 million of the Osborne money to at least make sure that fares do not have to rise by more than planned in 2013 and beyond. It might even be enough to cap them, or some of them, below the planned levels in future years, too.

The second question is how, if at all, this affects the 2012 Mayoral election. Ken Livingstone has recently taken to claiming, rather implausibly, that he will cut fares if returned to City Hall. (Ken has promised to hold down fares at every mayoral election he has ever fought. Every single time, as he admits in his own autobiography, he has “broken my promise” once safely elected, or secretly planned to break his promise.)

The new Osborne move might however allow Ken to claim, perhaps more plausibly, that the Tories are feeling the heat from his policy. Boris Johnson, meanwhile, could argue that he has won extra money for London in a way which a Labour mayor could not.

When the actual revised prices are announced, I wonder whether it might it be politic for Boris to use some of the Osborne money to freeze some of the more totemic fares? I’m thinking especially of the Oyster bus single fare, which is due to rise from £1.30 to £1.40. Since TfL (for some reason, in the Oyster age, which I can’t quite understand) only prices in 10p units, this fare is unlikely otherwise to benefit from Osborne’s largesse. Just a thought, lads…

Ken Livingstone: 'I broke my promises on fares' (twice)

The excitement’s been building to fever pitch in the run-up to Ken’s rally tonight to promote his promised 5% fares cut. Key opinion formers famous for their finely honed judgment, such as Sally Bercow, have been flown in for the big event. Jarvis Cocker, Benjamin Zephaniah and the usual slightly predictable luminaries have signed the usual round-robin letter to the Guardian. The idea that we should approve of a policy because a singer does so is somehow both profoundly patronising and profoundly Eighties, isn’t it?

Without wishing to put a dampener on proceedings tonight, can I refer Jarvis, Sally et al to Ken’s recently-published autobiography if they want to know, in his own words, the real value of a Livingstone fares promise.

In his 2000 election campaign “I had promised to freeze bus fares and keep Tube fares in line with inflation,” writes Ken (page 491). Alas, by 2003, “the cost of running the buses was increasing with the price of oil, so I decided to increase the fares before the [2004] election and then promise they wouldn’t rise by more than inflation.”

Ah well, one promise broken, but another one made, at least. Alas, this second promise was to be dumped even quicker. Page 497 of the book relates how in August 2004, Ken got a call saying he would be allowed to borrow £2.9 billion for upgrades to the DLR, the East London Line and the North London Line.

“The sting in the tail was that I would have to increase the fares to service the debt,” Ken writes. “This meant breaking my promise not to raise fares faster than inflation, but given my contempt for Wilson and Callaghan – who cut investment rather than raise taxes – I took the deal.” Fares duly rose – by as much as 25 per cent in a single year.

Two explicit admissions, from Ken himself, that he broke his promises to hold down fares two elections running. For good measure, I revealed his secret plans to do the hat-trick before the 2008 election.

Every time Ken has made an election promise to hold down fares, he has broken it, or secretly planned to break it. And 2000, 2004 and 2008, of course, were days of plenty, when there was lots more money coming in from Whitehall.

Oddly enough, the need to maintain investment – and, with Crossrail, rather more of it than £2.9 billion – is Boris Johnson’s justification for raising fares, just as it was Ken’s. Ken has repeatedly described the fare rises as a “stealth tax.” But how convenient that he now seems to have forgotten his “contempt” for politicians who “cut investment rather than raise taxes.”


Ken Livingstone promises to bring back something that never went away

Ken Livingstone yesterday announced that he would bring back the zone 2-6 Travelcard. “Thousands of outer London commuters were stunned to find the zone 2-6 Travelcard was abolished by the Conservative Mayor earlier this year,” stormed Ken in his press release. This meant that “passengers who wanted to use a Travelcard were forced to buy a Zone 1-6 Travelcard… paying £128 a month more.”

There’s only one problem with this ringing pledge, but it’s a biggie: the zone 2-6 Travelcard has not been abolished. There is no need to bring it back because it still exists. There it is, Ken, look, on the TfL website – did you really not check? Or did you just not care?

“Thousands of commuters” have not been “stunned” or “forced to buy a zone 1-6 Travelcard…paying £128 a month more.” They have actually found themselves paying – ahem – £7.60 a month more. Last year the monthly Zones 2-6 card cost £124.50. This year it went up to £132.10. Ken’s claimed increase is only £4 less than the card’s entire price!

I think Ken must mean the zones 2-6 one-day Travelcard, which (as first revealed by me) has indeed been abolished, hitting the people who used to buy it with rises of up to 74 per cent, from £8.60 to £15, if they travelled in the peak. This certainly was bad news if you are one of the handful of people who bought one to travel occasionally from zones 2 to 6 in the peak. But no regular traveller would be affected by this. And, alas, the vital qualifying words “one day” never appear in front of the word “Travelcard” in Ken’s press release, deliberately misleading people about the true position.

Ken’s claim of a £128 a month rise for commuters is based on something that I don’t imagine a single person, let alone “thousands,” has ever done – queue up each morning to buy twenty £15 day tickets, one each weekday for a month, rather than buy one monthly ticket.

It is the second time in a fortnight that Ken’s figures on fares have been exposed as fraudulent. Two weeks ago he promised that his fares policy would save the “average Londoner” £800 or the “average transport user” over £800 in the next four years. Neither of these claims is true. I note that in yesterday’s press release, he’d already scaled the claim back, saying that the “average commuter” will save £800. That’s not true either, by the way.

I suppose I should be flattered that on the One Day Travelcard Ken is proposing to fix a problem I spotted. But once again, his chronic lack of honesty (and message discipline) lets him down.