Transport is a policy area over which London Mayors have some of their greatest and most direct control, so the publication of Sadiq Khan’s draft transport strategy is a big moment in his time at City Hall. It is a large and detailed document – nearly 300 pages long – which cannot be fully explored in the two hours available before some of us have to get across town to keep an appointment using the very bus and Underground services much of the draft strategy addresses. But here are some initial thoughts:
- Khan’s transport vision is more coherent than Boris Johnson’s. The Tory mayor’s initial approach to transport reflected manifesto pledges to preserve and even extend the privileges of private motorists while also promising to improve provision for cycling and walking. It didn’t fully acknowledging the tensions this implied. Johnson later placed more emphasis on cycling, but some at Transport for London question whether resources were spent wisely. There was a recurring sense throughout Johnson’s eight years of policy being made up off the cuff, depending on which of his friends was shouting loudest in his ear. By contrast, Khan’s draft strategy restores a transport mode hierarchy, with cycling, walking and public transport placed at the top of it within a “healthy streets” approach which seeks to increase active travel, improve air quality and decrease car use. Khan’s goal is that the proportion of trips made by the three favoured modes will increase from the 64% to 80% by 2041. But don’t get too excited yet about the possibility of extended road-pricing. Even Johnson’s transport strategy acknowledged that it might be needed but it remains political dynamite.
- Transport’s role in creating “good growth” is properly recognised. The draft strategy articulates not only the link between the provision of transport infrastructure and economic growth but also how the type of transport can influence the type of growth achieved. Transport triggers redevelopment and therefore growth, but rapid change in neighbourhoods can meet with resistance if residents doubt that it will be change for the better. There is an emphasis in the strategy on fully consulting local people in areas of the city where redevelopment schemes – “regeneration” – is planned in order to “provide the greatest benefit for everyone”. That’s pretty idealistic, but a good ideal nonetheless.
- Making public transport use a “good experience” isn’t wholly within London’s gift. New technologies, more bus priority and better step-free access to stations are all laudable goals but don’t come free. TfL’s finances remain squeezed. And some of Khan’s plans will cost money that London government doesn’t have. Extending the Bakerloo Line and getting going on building Crossrail 2 will require heavy investment from other sources. The Conservatives’ election manifesto made no mention of helpful funding. Labour’s did, but they didn’t win. There will need to be some imaginative financing and a change of attitude in Number 10 – or, perhaps more hopefully, Number 11 – to get things moving. The draft strategy also says “suburban [rail] services should be devolved to the Mayor’s control”, but Chris Grayling remains secretary of state for transport and he, of course, has other ideas.
- Getting Outer London boroughs onside is vital. It is often forgotten that the majority of London’s people live and work in its suburbs, where car dominance is most pronounced and car dependency greatest. The draft strategy stresses that boroughs have a big part to play in realising the mayor’s transport vision and that they will be developing their own transport plans next year, following the borough elections. A big part of changing transportation habits is about changing cultural custom and practice, and cars have long been part of, if you’ll forgive the generalisation, the London suburban lifestyle. It isn’t only about infrastructure and planning, it’s about human beings too. Sadiq Khan and his transport deputy, Val Shawcross, seem to have grasped this principle. Can they get others to help them put it into effect?
The mayor’s draft transport strategy and an executive summary can be read here. The public have until 2 October to send TfL their comments.
Photograph: Max Curwen-Bingley.