london traffic

Lower public transport usage risks Londoners’ health, Sadiq Khan warns

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Londoners could be at greater risk of air pollution-related health problems due to pandemic-led changes to the way in which people travel in the capital, the Mayor of London has warned.

According to Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, pollution leads to 4,000 Londoners dying early each year, increasing the economic and resource burden on the health service.

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, public transport usage has fallen and has yet to recover to 2019 levels as people try to avoid crowded spaces that put them at risk of contracting the virus.

The share of trips by public transport in 2020 dropped fourteen per cent compared to 2019, while car use remained high.

Car travel has been the most resilient transport mode throughout the pandemic, with usage close to pre-pandemic levels for much of the latter half of 2021.

Meanwhile, according to the Mayor’s office, more than a third of car trips made by Londoners could be walked in under 25 minutes and two thirds could be cycled in under 20 minutes.

Khan warned that unless efforts are made to ensure a focus on sustainability during the recovery from the pandemic, the city could face a “public health and economy crisis”.

Public transport ridership plummeted by 95 per cent and is currently still significantly behind pre-pandemic levels, with buses at 70 per cent of normal demand and Tubes at 55 per cent.

While public transport usage is down, TfL figures show that cycling during the pandemic increased by 22 per cent in outer London, compared to spring 2019, with a seven per cent rise in inner London. Participation also broadened, particularly among people from minority ethnic communities.

September and October 2021 were both record months for the Santander cycle hire scheme, with October seeing more than one million hires for the first time.

Since 2011, as London has grown in population, it has experienced a huge increase in the number of miles driven on its roads, rising by 3.5bn miles between 2011 and 2019 from 19.1bn miles in 2011 to 22.6bn miles by 2019.

Data from external providers shows that as the number of vehicle miles has increased, so too has the time lost by drivers to traffic. According to data provided by TomTom, in 2017 an average of 144 hours per year, per driver, were spent sitting in traffic - almost 20 minutes extra for a 30-minute trip during the evening rush hour. In 2018, this increased to 147 hours, and in 2019, to 149 hours per year.

“Whilst we have made huge strides in increasing walking and cycling in London throughout the pandemic, car use has remained consistently high,” Khan said.

“If we do not double down on our efforts to deliver a greener, more sustainable future we will replace one public health crisis with another – caused by filthy air and gridlocked roads. The cost to both Londoners and the capital cannot be underestimated, with days wasted stuck in traffic, billions lost to the economy and increased road danger and health impacts.

“Most traffic is caused simply by there being too great a demand for limited street space, meaning the only long-term solution can be to significantly reduce car use in favour of greener means of travel.”

Silviya Barrett, policy head at Campaign for Better Transport, said: “Traffic congestion is bad for our health, bad for business and bad for the planet, so it is crucial that we keep up efforts to reduce car use in the capital to ensure a green recovery. Making more journeys by public transport and active travel is key to tackling congestion and cleaning up London’s air - as well as helping to reduce carbon emissions.”

At the end of October, London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) was significantly expanded in order to try and tackle air pollution from older vehicles.

The fines levied on drivers for breaking rules on London’s busiest roads are also set to increase by nearly a quarter next week, with TfL raising penalty charge notices on red routes from £130 to £160 from Monday January 17. Nearly two-thirds (65 per cent) of respondents to a TfL consultation were opposed to the increase.

London’s red routes are roads managed by TfL and have special rules determining when and where vehicles can stop and park in a bid to keep traffic flowing. Red routes make up 5 per cent of the capital’s roads but carry 30 per cent of its traffic.

Between 2016-2019 there was a 26 per cent increase in the number of PCNs issued for road offences in London. The fines were handed out for offences such as parking illegally in loading bays, blocking yellow box junctions, or making banned turns. They are also given to motorists caught stopping on red routes or driving in bus lanes during operating hours.

All revenue from PCNs is “invested back into London’s transport network”, according to TfL.

The announcement came just weeks after TfL confirmed that a 30 per cent increase in the Congestion Charge will be permanent.

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