Transport for London and Sadiq Khan have long stressed their desire to avoid a “car-led recovery” from the pandemic. Are they getting their wish? That partly depends on how “car-led” is defined: for example, speaking about it in December, the Mayor said he’s eager to prevent “more carbon monoxide and London coming to a gridlock”. But perhaps simply having less private motor traffic on the roads than before Covid would qualify as success.
If so, that hope looks close to being dashed, at least where the roads for which TfL is responsible are concerned. Those “red routes” – officially the Transport for London Road Network (TLRN) – account for only five per cent of the capital’s total road length, but they are main roads which carry more than 30 per cent of London’s traffic.
TfL has kindly given On London some figures about the use of red route roads since late last autumn. The most recent are for the morning peak period of 07:00-10:00 a.m. for Monday to Thursday of last week. They show that “daily kilometres travelled on the TLRN” during those hours varied from 5.4 to 5.9 per cent less than what TfL calls “normal conditions” for this time of year. And for the final three weekdays of July, the story was the same: 5.6 to 5.9 per cent fewer kilometres driven than normal.
The significance of those reductions is easier to judge when they are compared with morning peak weekday figures provided for early March compared with those for the same period last year, which was shortly before the country went into lockdown. In March 2021 too the daily kilometres covered were down on red route roads, but by larger amounts than when compared with “normal conditions” now. In this case, the figures between 3 and 9 March ranged from nine per cent fewer kilometres to 12.7 per cent fewer.
On the face of it, then, we’ve seen red route traffic increase since March to a point where it is just a few per cent less than was normal pre-Covid for this time of year. If that is a trend and it continues, we seem to be on course for red route mileage to revert to what it used to be some time in the autumn and possibly continue to rise. If that happens, it will hard to make the case that a “car-led recovery” isn’t happening. Meanwhile, the Tom Tom traffic flow measure of all London traffic indicates that congestion is pretty much back to as bad as ever.
Of course, the pattern – insofar as we can be sure it is one – might change if confidence in using public transport returns and people begin using buses, the Underground and so on more and their cars less. Last week, demand for buses was around 65 per cent of normal and for the Tube around 45 per cent. Both, though particularly buses due to school holidays, always tend to be a bit quieter in August. Businesses and TfL alike will be hoping for a pick-up from September.
The other red route figures provided by TfL were for the morning peaks of the first five working days of January, when the third lockdown came into force, and for four weekday in the middle of last November. On the January days, daily kilometres travelled were 21.9-22.9 per cent down year-on-year and on the November days they were down between 9.9 and 11.4 per cent.
On London is a small but influential website which strives to provide more of the kind of journalism the capital city needs. Become a supporter for £5 a month (or £50 a year) and receive an action-packed weekly newsletter and free entry to online events. Details here.