Was 2017 the year London’s progressive transport story went into reverse?

Was 2017 the year London’s progressive transport story went into reverse?

Publication of Transport for London’s annual Travel in London Report, some 250 densely packed pages of statistics and analysis about how people get around the capital, illuminates vital themes of the city’s development and teleports transport nerds to Destination Ecstasy. Report number 10 has just been released, containing data up to and including 2016. Here are some key findings to get you started on the feast of facts it serves up.


Growth in the use of public transport has been stalling

The report records that use of the London Underground, which had typically been rising by between 5% and 9% a year, only went up by 1% in 2016, making growth in its usage “effectively flat” during that year. The news got worse in 2017: in October, GLA  economists noted the first fall in annual passenger journeys on the Tube since 2010.

The story with Network Rail services in London looks very similar. There was a rise of just 0.1% in 2016 following increases of between 4% and 8% in recent years. And, again, more recent indicators have shown substantial drops of between 5% and nearly 9% in passenger journeys on commuter lines in 2017, the exception being services controlled by London Overground.

On buses, the report says that continued falling patronage in 2016 has “since stabilised”, although earlier this month official watchdog London TravelWatch criticised as “unacceptable” TfL plans to maintain bus speeds at their present levels, which are lower than they were five years ago. The slowdown in bus speeds due to traffic congestion is considered the main reason why fewer people have been using buses.


Meanwhile, road traffic volumes have been increasing overall

“The long-established trend for reducing volumes of motorised road traffic turned, with year-on-year growth of 1.6%,” says the report. However, the pattern of change was not consistent across Greater London as a whole. The largest increase in 2016 was found to be in Outer London, where the amount of motorised traffic rose by 1.9%. In Inner London, the increase was by a smaller 0.9%. And in Central London, there was actually a reduction, also by 0.9%. This was despite a significant growth in the number of private hire vehicles plying for trade in that part of the metropolis.

The overall rise follows an overall decline of 5.7% since 2006, though the trends for different kinds of motorised private vehicles have differed to some degree. The amount of car use in London as a whole fell steadily from 2000 until 2013 when it bottomed out, although it rose a little in 2016. Use of heavy goods vehicles fell quite sharply in 2016, especially in Central and Inner London for reasons the report describes as “not immediately apparent”. At the same time, light goods vehicles have been used a lot more, returning to a level last recorded in 2007.


Cycling has increased, but from a very low base 

There was an increase 8.8% in the use of bicycles for some part of trips made in London in 2016 (a “trip” being defined as an excursion from start to finish that might involve the use of more than one transport mode). The report contends that “improving London’s cycle network infrastructure, as well as facilities and conditions for cycling more generally, is key to encouraging more people to cycle” and says that “26.7% of Londoners live within 400 metres of the operational cycle network”. However, it also notes that Londoners’ propensity to cycle, and also to walk, is conditioned by “varied and complex” attitudes to cycling, ranging from fears about safety to “more intangible ‘cultural’ factors”.

Cycling, whether measured as whole trips or journey stages within trips, has been on the increase in London since 2000, with the number of stages rising by 154% since that year. There’s a good graph showing this trend on page 56. Interestingly though, some of the biggest yearly increases preceded the introduction of dedicated cycle lanes: 2005 saw a 9% hike, 2006 one of 12% and, more recently, 2014 saw a 10% increase. (Those figures are shown on page 57).


Public transport still has the biggest modal share but has stopped pulling further ahead

Sadiq Khan wants 80% of trips to be made on foot, by cycling or by public transport by 2041. To move towards that goal he will need to restore the growth in bus and rail transport relative to private motorised transport use and see a lot more cycling and walking too.

In 2016, 63% of trips were made by the modes the Mayor favours: public transport (including trams and the DLR) accounted for 37% of them, walking for 24% and cycling for just 2%. Private motorised transport accounted for  the remaining 37%. The journey shares breakdown for the same year was slightly different: 45% of those were made by public transport, 21% by walking and the same, very small 2% by cycling. Private motor transport accounted for 32% of journey shares. Measured by journey stages, then, public transport dominates the ways people move around London.

However, the concern underlined by the latest Travel in London report is that the overall, long-term trend towards greater preferences for public transport relative to private motorised forms seems to have halted.

The statistics for trips over the past 20 years (see table 2.3, page 28), show that the public transport percentage rose from 26% in 1996 to 37% in 2013, but hasn’t risen since. During the same period, the private transport share fell from 49% to 37% in 2012 and hasn’t moved since, except for a drop to 36% in 2015. Walking has only twice deviated from 24% over that time (and only by a single point), while cycling has doubled, though only from 1% to 2%. Much the same story is true for journey shares (table 2.4, page 29).

Those 2017 figures for the Underground and Network rail mentioned above give grounds for trepidation about the next Travel In London Report, due to this time next year. In 2016, the efficient, sustainable and physically active modes just about held their own, albeit with small increase in a car use. Will 2017 be the year when London’s two decades of progressive transport trends go into reverse?

Read the whole of Travel In London Report 10 via here.

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