Blog Post

January’s policy roundup: a new direction for London’s travel?

The start of 2022 brought big developments for the future of travel in London, alongside concerns consistent with those of last year. Our Chief Executive Nick Bowes has the full breakdown:

Road user charging: an ever-closer reality?

With the start of the new year came a new City Hall-commissioned report on what London needs to do to meets its target of net-zero emissions by the end of the decade. To see the Mayor continue to emphasise the urgency of cleaning up London’s environment as a key priority is to be applauded, and his intervention came not a moment too soon, with this month seeing extreme and harmful pollution levels once again soar over the city. The powers that City Hall have to deal with air quality emergencies are limited in comparison to our international counterparts, so we need urgent improvements wherever possible to properly respond to what is one of the major public health crises of our time.

In particular, Sadiq Khan was right to pinpoint the need to go much further in the capital, and his report fuelled speculation he might introduce a daily pay per mile driving charge instead. This dramatic shift is the closest the Mayor has come to advocating Centre for London’s long-standing backing for pay-per-mile road user charging, finally recognising that largescale behavioural change can only be achieved by replacing the current outdated and rather clunky binary measures in the Congestion Charge and Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ). How quickly these changes happen if at all remains to be seen – the technological leap is very large, it will require considerable consultation and up-front investment, and many groups will be fiercely opposed – but this is a welcome step forward for London’s net-zero agenda.

All change for TfL

Key to achieving the city’s environmental targets, as well as so many livelihoods and businesses in London, is the lingering future of our public transport network. The long-term funding arrangements of Transport for London, which are due to run out in a matter of days, are still up in the air with the government and City Hall struggling to see eye to eye. This precarious situation also comes at a time of major upheaval at Transport for London (TfL), with the departure of Simon Kilonback, Vernon Everitt and Mark Wild from the top team at TfL, following the recent departure of Heidi Alexander as Deputy Mayor for Transport (replaced by Seb Dance). Enormously challenging roles in normal times have been particularly gruelling in the current climate. The government cannot continue to delay giving London the funding it needs to keep our buses and tubes running without risking dire economic consequences for not just the city but the entire nation. At the start of next month, we’re hosting an event staring down TfL’s uncertain future and the ‘levelling down’ consequences the current situation poses for London. I hope you can join us.

Cost of living crisis continues

With the omicron variant looking like it is past its peak, we start 2022 with reason to be optimistic about London’s capacity to recover. However, we should still brace ourselves for more uncertainty as new storm clouds lie on the horizon. Inflation has surged to a level not seen for decades, placing a strain on London’s households, who already face a cost of living higher than the rest of Britain. Many Londoners are having to deal with a mixture of rising cost of living driven by soaring energy prices – and compounded by forthcoming National Insurance rises and possible sharp hikes in transport fares.

Encouragingly, the most recent ONS data revealed falling unemployment overall in London. For some time, the capital has had the ignominy of the highest unemployment rate in the country, but this is now a mantle held by the North-East. Given that unemployment remains higher in London than most other regions in the country, it is more important than ever that the Government’s levelling up agenda reflect the scale of the city’s challenge.

Further evidence of the scale of London’s levelling up challenge was revealed in a new report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation that revealed the city has the highest rate of residents in poverty nationwide (at a shocking 27 per cent). According to the report, driving the capital’s high rates of poverty are high housing costs, distinct than the main factors driving poverty elsewhere in the country. Given the unique nature of London’s poverty, it reinforces the need for tailored and locally specific policy responses and is a warning that one size fits all national responses won’t necessarily be as effective.

Nick Bowes is Chief Executive of Centre for London. Follow him on Twitter. Read more from him here.