diamond geezer

 Tuesday, April 09, 2024

As the Mayoral election approaches, all sorts of parties are announcing all sorts of policies on all sorts of things.

I'll take a look at some of the more intriguing proposals later in the campaign, once everyone's finally told us what they are. But let's take a closer look at the first big manifesto to be released, that of Green Party candidate Zoë Garbett, a 134-page monster which was launched yesterday. And because transport is one of the areas Mayors have most control over, let's dig into some of her more intriguing transport policies.
Set an ambition to flatten fares and create a single zone for tube and rail, just like we have on buses and trams, helping everyone in outer London pay less for travel.
It's not the first time the Green Party has proposed a single London fare zone. But is it practical, would it work and might a lot of people end up paying more?

We currently have six fare zones so cutting that to one would be a very significant change. It'd mean a tube ride from Leicester Square to Covent Garden would cost the same as from Upminster to Uxbridge, even though the second journey is 200 times longer than the first. These journeys currently cost £5.60 and £2.80 respectively at peak times, or £3.60 and £2.70 off-peak, so some Londoners would be looking at some pretty significant savings. It'd be even better for anyone travelling from Orpington to Chingford because that's currently £9.90 at peak times or £6.70 off-peak, but therein lies a significant problem with Zoë's vision. Fare zones aren't just a TfL issue, they're higher if you use National Rail rather than the tube, which means the Train Operating Companies would have to be on board too. Fat chance.

A key factor here is what that flat fare would turn out to be. If the scheme needs to bring in a similar amount of revenue then that fare would have to be set above the current minimum, say at £3, in which case everyone making a 1 zone journey would find themselves with a large overnight increase. Zoë has made it clear that her intention is for the flat fare to be 'low', but even then I bet the current £1.80 from Leytonstone to Stratford would take quite a leap. She also admits that a low flat fare is never going to happen without a significant contribution from government, so I think we can assume this is an impractical ambition.

It's OK, there's a less idealistic version.
We will start with flattening the DLR fares so there is one charge for a journey with no zones.
Well that might work better. Almost all of the DLR is in zones 2 and 3, so shrinking the entire network to a single zone would be a much smaller proposition. There's also a precedent with the Croydon trams which notionally pass through four fare zones but instead operate on a single flat fare, currently £1.75. You'd simply tap in on the DLR and not need to tap out, paying less than now, so very much a quick win.

Or maybe not. At present a journey from Beckton to North Greenwich via Canning Town lies solely within zone 3 so costs less than £2. In a Green future you'd pay first for the DLR, then for one stop on the Jubilee line, and that could easily double the fare. Another issue is that the DLR extends into zone 1 and zone 4 which means, for example, it would suddenly be possible to get from Woolwich to the City of London at a rock bottom rate. Imagine how much busier the DLR might get if, for a slight time penalty, it were half the price of Crossrail. I suspect there'd also be significant fare evasion issues because the system wouldn't be expecting you to touch out, and I'm not even sure this DLR-lite version has wings.

OK, how about this pledge?
By the end of our first term in 2028, we will have replaced the current Mayor’s ULEZ scheme with a smarter, fairer road-pricing plan, which will see cleaner vehicles on our roads, protect drivers’ data privacy and reduce distances driven.
For drivers road pricing is the evil elephant in the room, a threat to make them pay extra for the freedom of driving whenever wherever. It's also at the heart of Susan Hall's long-running smear campaign, insisting Sadiq intends to introduce pay per mile when he's explicitly said he won't. But if vehicles are increasingly going electric then government needs to find some way of taxing drivers who no longer buy petrol so it's likely coming eventually. The Greens would rather that was sooner rather than later, indeed by the end of a single mayoral term, bringing charges to significantly more drivers than currently pay either the Congestion Charge or ULEZ.

But how's that going to work then? London's full of cameras but nowhere near enough to be able to work out where you drove and how long it took, nor how many passengers you might have been carrying. To be fair to everyone it'd require some kind of in-car device to trace your route and nobody has one of those yet, they don't exist, but they'd need to be in every car. And not just Londoners but visitors from the West Midlands, Scotland, even abroad, because you can't make London a gizmo-dependent exclusion zone.

Road pricing's obviously fine as an aspiration if you're an environment-first party but it'll never happen by 2028. Look too at these additional pledges, all of which look a tad too overenthusiastic.
• Make London diesel free by 2028
• Work with councils to phase out residential parking permits for diesel cars by 2028
• Phase in a Central London car-free-zone by 2028
Here's an intriguing one.
Whilst looking to bring in smart road charging, introduce a toll at the Blackwall Tunnel to raise money for improving walking, wheeling and cycling routes, including a study for the potential transformation of either or both of the Rotherhithe Tunnel and Tower Bridge for walking, wheeling and cycling.
A toll at the Blackwall Tunnel is coming anyway under Sadiq, if not under Susan. But the idea of banning vehicles from the Rotherhithe Tunnel and/or Tower Bridge is on another level. I could see Tower Bridge working, Green-wise, unless you're one of the displaced bus passengers whose journey would suddenly take much longer. And the Rotherhithe Tunnel might even make a good cycle route, though I suspect embarrassingly few people would actually use it. But it's never going to be a useful solution for pedestrians and mobility scooters because with its twists and turns it's nigh one mile long and hardly anybody wants to walk from Limehouse to Rotherhithe anyway. You only have to walk the existing Woolwich Foot Tunnel, which is strategically much more useful, to experience the tumbleweed of potential demand.

Here's worse.
Make one bore of the Silvertown Tunnel exclusively for walking, wheeling and cycling, and for electric buses, and work with local councils to use the second bore to extend the DLR across the Thames.
The Greens would never have built the Silvertown Tunnel, we get that, indeed many local politicians wouldn't have bothered either. But now it's nigh finished you can't suddenly retrofit it for a completely different outcome without wasting a phenomenal amount of money. Nobody wants to walk a mile from not-quite Canning Town to not-quite North Greenwich anyway - far better (and quicker) to make the Dangleway free and send pedestrians and cyclists that way instead.

As for the idea of extending the DLR through one bore of the Silvertown Tunnel that sounds potentially brilliant but is actually bloody stupid. Even though the DLR passes directly over the northern mouth of the road tunnel it's already too late to re-engineer the works in an even vaguely cost-efficient manner. And it'd be even worse on the southern side, the new DLR extension suddenly popping up in a concrete crevasse at the centre of the peninsula with absolutely nowhere to go. This is a solution looking for a problem, and an inconceivably poor solution at that.

Here are five other Green policies I have severe practical doubts about.
• Install crossings at every traffic light junction
• Upgrade our bus fleet to include space for more wheelchair users to travel together
• Convert 25% of parking spaces into parklets and free-standing cycle hire drop-off points, clearing pavement clutter
• Commit to a 20mph speed limit across all of Transport for London’s Road Network by 2025
• Relocate loading bays from bus lanes to side streets
And here, for balance, are ten that might work well.
• Freeze bus fares at the current level for our first term
• Bring Santander cycle hire into the Oyster Card charging system
• Explore the introduction of more tram routes
• Restore 24 hour free travel to holders of 60+ London Oyster photocards and Older Person’s Freedom Passes
• Work with councils to develop standardised parking charges across London
• Make cycle hire free for everyone under 22
• Design a new standard bus stop with better shelter and seating suitable for older and disabled people
• Prioritise the provision of toilets at stations at interchanges and in areas with no nearby provision
• Ensure stations are well-lit, fully staffed and have visible and well-connected CCTV and wifi
• Introduce more Cycle Optimised Protected Signal junctions
And here's one that displays Shaun Bailey levels of misunderstanding about where the edge of London actually is.
Consult communities on the introduction of new, direct bus routes that allow safe travel between neighbourhoods and give them a say over changes to existing bus routes, such as extending ...the 463 from Coulsdon South Station to Netherne on-the-Hill, to help connect places in outer London with public transport options.
No Zoë, Netherne-on-the-Hill is in Surrey, and that's why its transport links are poor.

Anyone can cherrypick a manifesto and pick out the bad apples, which as a blogger is exactly what I've done. Indeed many a voter gets so obsessed by one policy they absolutely detest that they fail to look at the wider picture, which in Zoë's detailed manifesto is very wide indeed.

Zoë's never going to win - London's not yet a Green city - but she is offering several properly intriguing policies that future Mayors may one day borrow as their own.

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