Friday, December 14, 2007

Same old traffic jams

The Evening Standard yesterday brought us an excellent article exposing the failure of London's 'landmark' congestion charge scheme.

Despite undoubtedly cutting car use in the zone (the only vehicles mayor Ken Livingstone ever likes to discuss), the latest Department for Transport figures have shown that average morning traffic speeds in London have now fallen to 9.3mph - well below the 9.9mph recorded before the congestion charge was launched in 2003.

That screams abject failure. But what's the reason for this strange anomoly?

The answer, Douglas McWilliams of the Centre for Economics and Business Research writes, is that lorries and, in particular, buses are now clogging London's roads.

He blames the fact that most transport experts use models that understate the congestion impact of large vehicles like buses in cities, like London, with narrow, congested streets.

So they miss the point that a charge that mainly targets cars will only do a limited amount to reduce congestion.

Buses clogging roads

Our roads, McWilliams suggests, are increasingly clogged up by more buses than there is either space or need for, with the infamous 'bendy' buses singled out for particular blame.

In Britain we have twice as many buses as in Germany, France or Italy. Apparently we have a fifth of all the buses in the EU!

And as we have said on this blog many times before, it's not as if buses are particularly environmentally attractive. For all the space they take up, they spend large parts of the time virtually empty. Over all services, from beginning to end of routes, the average number of passengers in a bus is just eight.

Since a bus does, on average, just 3.6 miles to the gallon, and since half of bus journeys would not be undertaken if the buses were not there, McWilliams has calculated that extra buses have about the same environmental effect as driving the passengers around in Bentleys.

This is Ken Livingstone's idea of traffic management.

Environment suffers

And what's his idea of helping the environment or public health? To fill London's streets with excess numbers of vehicles that, in the course of their operation, stand stationary for extended periods both blocking other traffic and spewing harmful diesel fumes in often densely populated areas.

TfL's excuse for the traffic slow-down is roadworks. But that conveniently ignores the fact that Livingstone prevented many roadworks schemes from happening just after the C-charge started, so as to give a misleading impression that charging had raised traffic speeds.

As McWilliams so rightly concludes: "Ken Livingstone's old-fashioned, anti-car policy has to be replaced with a more modern and flexible approach that allows for the fact that, for some people, cars are the only option. Without such a shift, we risk simply grinding to a halt."

If Livingstone is too stuck in his ways to do it, maybe we need a different mayor who will.

Monday, December 03, 2007

BMW boss slams 'ludicrous' anti-car schemes

The out-spoken boss of BMW UK has slammed the growing number of local anti-car schemes as 'unfair' and 'ludicrous'.

The intervention, which came at the BMW Group's recent Annual Press Dinner, is another sign of the growing backlash from the car industry against excessive and unjustified attacks on the car and car-users in the name of alleged man-made global warming.

Echoing a common theme on this blog, he also raised the prospect of British manufacturers Jaguar and Land Rover being taxed out of the UK.

In a hard-hitting speech, half of which was devoted to environmental issues, Jim O'Donnell directed much of his scorn at local politicians, singling out London mayor Ken Livingstone over his plan to raise the congestion charge from £8 to £25 a day for higher-polluting cars.

He said that the initiative would save just 8,100 tonnes of carbon each year - the equivalent of three hours of emissions from Heathrow.

"It was introduced as a congestion charge - now it's a green tax. Make up your mind, Ken" he said.

O'Donnell also rounded on Richmond Borough Council, the wealthy London suburb that's targeting top-end cars owned by residents.

The cost of parking two band G cars has this year risen from £150 to £500, and similar schemes are now popping up all over the country.

Councils 'out of control'

"The government must stamp out this regional tax spree by out-of-control councils now. It must restore some sort of respect for CO2 tax planning by leading from the front and putting the petty local politicians back in their boxes," he said.

"We are dealing with a serious global issue, not a local tax-raising initiative designed to further a public servant's career through old-fashioned 'soak the rich' schemes."

The BMW MD insisted he wasn't anti-green, and was firmly behind his company's own Efficient Dynamics measures for cleaner engines.

He quipped: "The automotive world is turning green more rapidly than a bunch of teenagers on alcopops."

Big cars debut latest technology

Big cars are an easy target for green-minded politicians but, O'Donnell argued, there are relatively few of them in use, and they had a plus side that was all too easily overlooked.

He made the excellent point that anti-lock brakes, catalytic converters, airbags and stability control were among the features that had debuted on top-end cars before trickling down to the mainstream, warning "The enforced demise of such cars will bring a slow-down in the development of such technology in future."

Attacks on big, thirsty cars could also, he added, be a blow to Jaguar and Land Rover.

"Do our political leaders really want to kill off major contributors to the UK economy and major employers? The UK needs both Jaguar and Land Rover as strong competitors in the global marketplace", he said.

BMW UK has vehicle manufacturing plants in Oxford (Mini) and Goodwood (Rolls Royce) with a body pressings plant in Swindon and an engine plant in Hamms Hall, Birmingham from which all production is exported.

In total the company employs around 8,000 people, with thousands more jobs involved in supplier companies.

Let's hope the politicians start listening - especially those with constituencies in Swindon and Birmingham - before excessive actions in response to climate changes that there is no proof we are causing provoke an economic tragedy affecting thousands of people.