Select Committee on Transport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 100 - 116)



  100. Overall, who are the gainers and who are the losers in all this?
  (Mr Livingstone) If we get a reduction in car travel into central London and a better use of the buses, we will all gain. Those people who have to use a car or a van will choose to. They will be able to get around more reliably and quicker. The problem we have at the moment is that a businessman in Canary Wharf who has a meeting in the Hyde Park area cannot know within half an hour how long it is going to take to get there. That is not an acceptable situation for business. That is one of the reasons why they have pushed this very hard. On legal advice I could not justify the congestion charge on grounds of air quality because we could not prove it would have an impact, but I suspect it might. In London 1,600 people a year die prematurely because of air quality from nitrogen dioxide and particulates. If we begin to see an accelerated reduction of those, that would benefit all of us.

  101. And the losers?
  (Mr Livingstone) Those people who find they have to bear the cost of this. It is not a tax—the economists who look at this theoretically make it quite clear—it is a pricing mechanism. The pricing mechanism is there to influence the choices people make in the same way as if you want to go and see the new Harry Potter film in Leicester Square you will pay twice what you do at Staples Corner. Everything you do in the centre of a great world city tends to cost more.


  102. That sounds eminently sensible, Mr Mayor, until you realise that, for example, these buildings are cleaned by ladies who come from Kennington who do not really have a great deal of choice. They want a job; that is their choice.
  (Mr Livingstone) Half of all the people who live in inner London have no access to a car; they are totally dependent on public transport. That is the poorest. Therefore for us there is a big drive to improve the night bus. From my election to the day this comes in we will have put on 20 new night bus routes, reduced the night bus fares; it is the most dramatic expansion there has ever been. We are putting in place, effectively, on our main bus routes a 24-hour service.

  103. So you would expect to put money back into the areas where people are most damaged, in other words where poor people are affected by your charges you would make a specific effort to make sure that those areas benefited directly from the charge.
  (Mr Livingstone) In two ways. As your study of the buses changes shape, we are in the middle of that expansion which really does benefit the poorest people in London. Secondly, if there is a reduction in congestion it is their children that breathe the air, they have to put up with the noise and the traffic volumes. Also, we have spent millions of pounds on traffic amelioration works around the zone which we might have round to doing one day anyhow, but we have accelerated because the congestion charge is coming.

  104. You are answering one of our urban myths. You have had everybody digging up the roads.
  (Mr Livingstone) We would be monumentally stupid to have put in the congestion zone and then decide to resurface the Inner Ring Road. So we have resurfaced the Inner Ring Road so it will not need doing for another eight years. Now if we can just persuade Transco and BT to leave it alone we will be all right.

  105. And you have not had a go at the traffic lights?
  (Mr Livingstone) No, no.

Chris Grayling

  106. As you have just said, you have done all these major road works. Large parts of London are not ground to a halt but are not far off at the moment. Are you using this as a comparison to judge whether the congestion charge works or not? It feels to many people terribly convenient that London has seized up this year and next year there will be a congestion charge. They obviously think you are gerrymandering it deliberately in order to be able to demonstrate that congestion has got better after you have introduced the charge.
  (Mr Livingstone) Like all the best conspiracy theories, that is absolutely wonderful, but there is no substance for it. The traffic light changes we have made are to 57 sets of lights around Trafalgar Square. This has caused real problems, but the reconstruction of Trafalgar Square is going to create a great world Square, a dramatic improvement to the quality of life of people in the area and huge improvements to pedestrians who will be able to cross the Square in two minutes instead of nine minutes. But it has been painful. I know that everyone supposes we are going to keep these lights on and then switch them back on the day the congestion charge comes in. The works will be finished by Christmas and I will switch the lights back—I suspect with the entire London media there to record the event—so you will all be able to see the lights will go back to normal before Christmas and we will therefore be able to judge it.


  107. Only the ones round Trafalgar Square?
  (Mr Livingstone) Those are the only ones we have changed. I know there is talk that all over London we have been changing lights. In 1992—and I will not remind people who was in power then or who was London Transport Minister—the government of the day took a decision, after fatal accidents, to bring London's pedestrian crossing phase in line with the national guidelines. That programme started in 1992, it accelerated in 1998; it was well underway before I was elected. The two big areas which have caused further major problems are Vauxhall Cross and at Shoreditch were planned by, I think, most probably John Prescott when he first was elected as deputy prime minister and I suspect were planned two years before this mayoral election. Road works of that scale do not arise rapidly; they take a lot of planning. Basically, the first big change that I have made in terms of road works is going to be the congestion zone.

Chris Grayling

  108. You are aware that Kate Hoey has raised issues about problems for teachers and others. You have created a system whereby a teacher at a parents' evening in Lambeth who choses to drive home because she is scared of travelling on the bus will be paying the same amount of money for the privilege as a city banker in a chauffeur driven car? How can that be just? And, given the fact that we have many people in the public services or those on low incomes, how can they actually afford this?
  (Mr Livingstone) Two things. I am trying to do a deal with the London Schools Minister that we will bring in the child fares limit up to 18 and in exchange they are looking at providing a cheap travel subsidy for teachers in London. That will assist. The other thing we have done, of course, is establish the Transport Operational Policing Unit which has had a dramatic impact. People are now seeing police getting on and off the buses. They are on mountain bikes so they can get to where there is an incident rapidly. I intend to propose in my budget for next year a doubling of expenditure on policing on the buses. Closed circuit television will be installed on all buses I think by the middle of 2005; that programme is running. Police, on and off the buses, and also closed circuit television on every bus. We want to make the buses safer.

Clive Efford

  109. I accept that the "do nothing" option is not one we could consider, but this is pretty straightforward to me. I feel this is flawed in the same way the poll tax was flawed in terms of its enforcement. That is that people move around, buildings do not. Car parking spaces, parking meters and car parks do not move around but cars do. That brings us down to this issue of enforcement. I was just wondering if you could take us through what discussions you have had with people like the DVLA and the police about enforcement. I am reliably informed by enforcement officers that there are hundreds of vehicles registered in the name of Michael Mouse or D Duck. How are you going to make those people pay a congestion charge?
  (Mr Livingstone) We estimate that one car in ten is not licensed in London. In Newham that figure is 20 per cent. Clearly people who have not registered their car are not paying tax; they are most probably not going to bother to pay the congestion charge. But bearing in mind that every time that car drives in its number plate will come up, we can start to watch out for the cars that are regular evaders. The mobile units which we will have inside the zone will then clamp them. I think we have let the contract for recovery of the fines in Europe. We are going to pursue people relentlessly because the people that are not registering their car, who will not pay this congestion charge are most probably also guilty of other offences and we will get them for those as well when we seize the car.

  110. But the local authorities currently have an enormous number of penalty charge notices that they are not pursuing. They fail to make them stick to a large degree. How are you going to be successful?
  (Mr Livingstone) They do not have mobile units of people running around with wheel clamps, clamping the cars. They will be going round with up-to-date hand-held computers telling them when this car has three or four outstanding charges it has not paid. They will clamp the thing and in some cases they will take it away and crush it.


  111. You have consulted with the relevant government agency about the efficiency of their computer system so they can use them in the street?
  (Mr Livingstone) If I could pass that one to Derek Turner who is more up on the details of how many we are going to crush and in what order.

Clive Efford

  112. We had this with private hire vehicle enforcement. We were told there were going to be all these enforcement officers but there were 20 for the whole of London. It was not the scheme that it was dressed up to be.
  (Mr Livingstone) It sounds to me we have a bit more than that ready for the zone.

Mr Brake

  113. You have said that congestion charges will have no impact whatsoever on the outer London boroughs. If, after 17 February, this is clearly not true and there is an impact, will you then agree to make monies available in the next financial year to let local authorities like my own introduce controlled parking zones around local stations, for instance?
  (Mr Livingstone) We would most probably be happy to co-operate with you now in doing that; do not wait.

  114. But you have said it will have no impact, so there is no need to take measures now.
  (Mr Livingstone) We would be amazed if there was an obvious impact in your borough, but we are prepared to help. Last year I increased the money available to boroughs for transport measures by £10 million. I have increased it by £10 million in the coming year; I have guaranteed a £10 million increase. We are gradually building up a phased program of works so that old nonsense that we used to have of all the work being done in February and March at the end of the financial year is a thing of the past. We are getting a smoother implementation of local boroughs' transport programs.


  115. On that note, which will undoubtedly form the basis of various press notices, can I say to you, Mayor, that we shall look forward to seeing how your scheme works. I assume you are using the same definition in congestion as the 10 Year Plan.
  (Mr Livingstone) God knows. Ask Derek.

  116. It is always nice to have informed witnesses, Mr Mayor. Can I say it has been very pleasant, as always, to talk to you and we shall follow your further career with great interest.

  Thank you.
  (Mr Livingstone) Coming to talk to you always reminds me of what I miss.

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