Boris Johnson was an appalling Mayor of London and now his national government’s micro-management of Transport for London, closely involving his erstwhile media supporter and now transport adviser Andrew Gilligan, continues to bring chaos to London’s streets.
We know that, as a result, Johnson’s successor, Sadiq Khan, is under enormous pressure to cut services to suit the government’s agenda. Even so, his response to his predicament betrays priorities about road surface transport that are as wrong as Johnson’s were, and have been for some time.
Londoners deserve better from a Labour Mayor than a “managed decline’’ scenario that includes huge potential damage to its iconic bus services, which serve millions of ordinary and often hard-pressed passengers every day, including those that keep this city running.
The most important things for bus passengers are journey time and reliability – not USB points, mobile phone holders and wood-effect flooring. London’s bus speeds had declined to less than 10 miles per hour even before the pandemic, due in large part to the atrocious planning and implementation of Johnson’s cycle superhighways.
We know these appalling slow speeds will continue as we come out of the pandemic, because Mayor Khan continues with a disproportionate focus on cycling, London’s most minor mode chosen by a tiny minority of people, rather than its most democratic mode, the bus.
We also know how to improve bus services in ways that would help them to operate with less subsidy within TfL’s budgets and win back passengers. The key is to give buses greater priority by freeing up more road space for them. That means introducing more dedicated bus lanes and taking out private parking spaces on bus routes, enabling faster bus speeds which, in turn, would reduce pollution and be more effective in reducing CO2 than any number of electric buses.
Such measures to help the bus would also do more to encourage cycling than the hugely expensive and sub-standard bike lanes brought in under Johnson by Gilligan and continued under Mayor Khan. I make that point as someone who regularly cycles in London and have done so for many years, but does not believe that provision for bicycles should be made at the expense of buses.
Cycling is important for the city, but the delays, inconvenience and cost to everyone else cannot be ignored, as is currently the case. Bicycles belong on the carriageway with other wheeled vehicles, where it is safer and more convenient. Giving cycles their own road space and separate traffic signal green light time may seem attractive, but it is less safe overall and has meant buses and their passengers are now stuck for longer in general traffic. Removing bus lanes for bike lanes is a ludicrous use of road space and is adding huge cost to running buses in London.
Today, TfL has announced a consultation about which bus routes should be axed or reduced. Yet studies have shown that if instead of reducing services policies were introduced to increase bus speeds in London by two miles an hour, the financial savings would be greater than any brought about by cuts. It’s a no-brainer Sadiq!
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