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Global Traffic Scorecard: London

Volume 817: debated on Wednesday 5 January 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the report by INRIX 2021 Global Traffic Scorecard, published on 6 December; and in particular, its findings (1) regarding the number of hours UK drivers spent in traffic, and (2) that London is the most congested city in the world in terms of traffic congestion.

My Lords, although officials have noted the INRIX report, the department makes its own assessment of congestion using the metric of average delay based on seconds of delay per vehicle per mile. This is generally a more accurate way of estimating congestion in contrast to grossing up the total hours lost from a small sample to total driver population, as INRIX has done.

My Lords, I assume the implication of that Answer from my noble friend is that there is no congestion for us to worry about. I was going to ask her whether the Department for Transport still holds to the assumption that vehicular traffic congestion has an economic cost, or whether it has, since Covid began, altered the methodology by which it applies that assumption, so that it is much less concerned about it.

I reassure my noble friend that we still believe that vehicular congestion has an economic cost; this can be a personal economic cost and a national economic cost. But we do not estimate a total cost of congestion on the road network as a whole; that is not routinely assessed by the department. We look at things such as journey time savings on road schemes appraisal, alongside many other impacts, be they economic, social or environmental, to make the right decisions.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the three most congested roads in London are the A503, the A2 and the North Circular Road, which are multilane roads with no cycle lanes? Would she also agree that the Blackfriars north-south cycle route now carries five times more people per route than the carriageway next to it? Is there not an argument for having more cycle routes, in particular on the high street in Kensington, which Kensington and Chelsea council has removed illegally?

Oh, my Lords, not again. The noble Lord has clearly been looking at the INRIX report in some detail. It is correct that the roads he cites are some of the most congested in London, but that does not necessarily mean that they are ripe for a cycle path. What one does need is effective cycle networks running through long distances. He rightly mentions the one over Blackfriars Bridge, which is a huge success. It is up to the Mayor of London, working with the local highways authorities, to put these in place.

My Lords, following my noble friend Lod Moylan’s Question, does my noble friend the Minister remember that one of the main arguments put forward for HS2 was the economic cost of faster travel time by HS2, and that an economic calculation was made of the economic benefit caused by the faster travel? Will she use the same methodology to apply to traffic congestion in London?

My noble friend is exactly right. That is exactly what I was saying earlier about journey time savings. For example, a number of projects in London have been put forward by the mayor looking for funding from the Department for Transport. In order to appraise those schemes, we look at journey time savings and, as I said to my noble friend, a number of other metrics to ensure that we make the right decisions.

My Lords, in contrast to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, as a London resident and a cyclist, I regularly see cycle lanes which are more or less unused, particularly when they run almost parallel to park cycle lanes. Given London’s status as the most traffic congested city in the world, have the Government made any assessment of the contribution—including pollution—paradoxically made to congestion by the narrowing of roads to accommodate cycle lanes?

My Lords, well designed cycle lanes need not cause any additional congestion and can be a highly efficient way of moving many more people than the equivalent road without a cycle lane. As the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, mentioned, the cycle lane over Blackfriars Bridge is a fantastic example of this. But the key thing is for the design to be appropriate. In London, this is a matter for the Mayor of London and for local authorities.

Recently, one of the national newspapers—the Daily Mail, I think it was—reported that rail tickets in the UK cost up to seven times the amount as for similar journeys in Europe. If the Government are serious about reducing road traffic and congestion, they will need to make public transport a more appealing alternative. What steps will the Government take to reduce the cost of rail and bus journeys?

The Government have, of course, been extraordinarily generous to the rail system. Over the course of Covid, we have been able to keep services running to make sure that people can get from A to B as and when they have needed to. We are now entering a new phase for rail, where we will be looking at introducing the structures around Great British Railways in order to benefit passengers—it is all about putting passengers first. As the noble Lord knows, on buses, we will be allocating £1.2 billion of transformation funding. We hope to do that fairly soon. We would like that to focus on bus priority to speed up services, so that we can break the cycle of decline.

My Lords, on that issue of generosity, obviously, getting cars off the road would be the quickest way to decongest our roads nationally. But in London, bus passengers, through TfL, actually pay for all the road repairs, and therefore they subsidise motorists. Does that seem right?

I am not sure I understand the noble Baroness’s point. The point that I am able to respond to is about getting cars off the road. This Government do not want to take cars off the road: the whole point is that we need to provide the right type of journey for the right passenger. For some people, that will mean using private cars, and for others it will mean using buses. It also means decarbonising the private vehicles that we currently have.

My Lords, I wonder if I can ask the Minister about enforcement, particularly in relation to e-scooters. We have cyclists going the wrong way on pavements in one-way streets, and we now have the blight of e-scooters, which appear to be entirely unregulated, as they race down streets, incredibly silently. We have started to see the first fatal accidents. What are the Government doing about that?

The Government are very clear that the use of e-scooters outside trial areas on public property is illegal. It can lead to a fine of up to £300, six points on a driving licence and the scooter can be impounded.

My Lords, given that inflation is running at very high levels as measured by CPI, but even higher levels as measured by RPI, being some 7%, can the Minister assure us that the benchmark for setting increases in rail fares will be CPI and not RPI?

My noble friend raises a really important point. This Government considered very carefully the extent to which we wanted to raise rail fares this year. Of course we will make sure that we take equal care when we look to raise fares, if at all, in future.

My Lords, the Minister referred earlier, in an answer to my noble friend Lord Rosser, to the Government’s generosity, both past and in prospect, to public transport. Can she say how much of that generosity is actually being spent on reducing the cost of travel?

I could, but I am afraid that I do not have the full briefing with me today in order to go through all the different elements where that is the case. But I can say to the noble Baroness that, for example, the national bus strategy very clearly sets out our ambition to be able to get a fair ticketing system for bus passengers and to enable services to be more frequent, and therefore for the entire system to operate more effectively.

My Lords, I am a member of the healthy cities commission at the University of Oxford, chaired by my noble friend Lord Best, where we are looking into the effects of commuting as well as congestion. If London is the most congested city in the world, what calculations have the Government made of the effect on the economy, the lost time, and the money and hours lost, as well as on pollution?

Again, that is a hugely complicated question, which probably goes beyond what I can answer today. The noble Lord is right; in terms of congestion and changes to commuting behaviour, the system has to adapt. That is why, in London, we have a very good integrated system, which comes under TfL and the responsibility of the Mayor of London. It is up to him to look at all the different modes that he has available, whether it is the Tube, overground, cycling or walking—all those different ways—to ensure that we get the maximum economic benefit for London. Only this morning, I spoke to the CEO of London First, and we discussed that in detail.

My Lords, no matter how much this is dressed up, there is no doubt whatever that congestion in London has got worse, and part of the reason for that is bad cycle lanes, as on the Marylebone Road, Park Lane and Lower Thames Street. Another reason is the closing of so many small back roads, so that the moment there is an accident, or something like that, everything clogs up. The journey that I do every day, and which I have done to try to avoid public transport and not give everyone in this House Covid, takes a third longer than it used to; it is getting longer and longer. We have to do something. Surely we must open up those side roads and get those bicycle lanes sorted out.

Well, I would very much encourage the noble Lord to use public transport. There is nothing wrong with public transport, and I think that even he would find it perfectly comfortable. He also might wish to talk to his colleague in the Labour Party, the Mayor of London, whose responsibility it is for London. But the noble Lord mentioned something that had not come up previously: low traffic neighbourhoods. They are really important for reducing rat-running, and we think that, where they are well introduced, following local consultation, they can be hugely effective in encouraging people to take up cycling and walking and for taking traffic off the streets.