Select Committee on Transport Written Evidence

Memorandum by The Corporation of London (OPT 20)



  1.  The City's function as the world's leading international financial and business centre is heavily dependent on an efficient and attractive integrated transport system to move large numbers of people daily and to enable the efficient servicing of its main activities. Public transport access is vitally important for the City of London. Up to a third of a million commuters come to work in the City each day and around 91% of them travel by rail, Underground or bus. This compares with 80% for central London, 42% for inner London and 18% for outer London. Notably the figure for the rest of the country is 14%, which shows how much more London relies on its public transport services.

  2.  One factor bearing on the City's international competitiveness is its ability to draw upon an extensive catchment area for its jobs; this attracts people who live in outer London and beyond and one third of public transport trips to the City originate outside greater London. For these people, rail is the only public transport option. The high dependency on rail means that all issues affecting rail travel are of great importance to the City.

  3.  The City economy is important both to London's and the nation's economy. The number of people employed in the City by 2016 is expected to increase by 93,000 (on 2000 figures) to 424,000. There is also predicted to be over 50,000 additional jobs in the `City Fringe' by 2016. It is vital that public transport is upgraded to keep pace with these changes. There is a need for increased capacity and reliability improvements to ensure the future prosperity of City and to provide for new developments in City and fringe areas. If this growth is stifled, then the City and fringe boroughs could all suffer.

  4.  The Corporation argues that the provision of public transport has fallen well behind the need to sustain the economic vibrancy of London. Employment in inner London has increased by 17% and population has also increased by 8.4% in the 1990s alone. It is not surprising therefore that travel demand has soared:

Overall travel demand
+ 14% since 1993
+ 21% since 1993
+ 20% since 1992
Private car
- 9% since 1992

  5.  There has, however, been no significant upgrade to the central London transport infrastructure in the last 20 years with the exceptions of the Jubilee Line Extension and the DLR Bank extension, constructed primarily to benefit the satellite development area of Docklands. This could be viewed as diverting essential transport investment away from the centre (working population 1.2 million) to the Docklands (working population 50,000). Slow progress on other vital improvement schemes such as Crossrail and Thameslink 2000 has also been disappointing.


  6.  The inevitable result of this growth in demand, combined with lack of investment in essential maintenance and new infrastructure over many years, is that overcrowding is now endemic, affecting all forms of public transport serving the City. With the system operating beyond its maximum planned capacity, overcrowding is inextricably linked with delays, unreliability and service disruption.

  7.  On rail for weekday peak travel times, according to the Strategic Rail Authority figures (2001) every train operator in London carried loads in excess of planned capacity (planned capacity typically includes 35% standing spaces to seats). Overloads ranged from 1.6% to 9.8% in the morning peak (a three hour period), but this disguises a far worse situation for the peak hour itself.

  8.  Congestion on mainline trains is mirrored by conditions on the Tube. Passenger growth is up 8% over 10 years resulting in "very crowded" or "crowded" conditions dominating central London during the 7am-10am period. Conditions on the Central Line are of particular concern to the City.

  9.  In London overall bus passenger journeys have increased by 15% to 1.35 million in the last decade but the total distance covered by buses has also increased, by around a third, with the result that average bus occupancy has actually decreased. Nevertheless this overview disguises the fact that peak period overcrowding and unreliability are commonplace. Observations in the City have noted many commuter bus routes with all seats already filled and reliability adversely affected by excessive delays and bunching. Plans to provide an extra 10,000 spaces (not necessarily seats) on buses for the busiest hour, in connection with the introduction of congestion charging, seem inadequate with, in consequence, standing room only in prospect for the future.


  10.  In meetings with the Corporation, City businesses consistently rank transport problems as amongst their major concerns. As a result of the City's concern over the economic costs of overcrowding and other inefficiencies in the public transport system, the Corporation intends to commission a research study to quantify effects on the City economy. Key issues for the study will include the effects of overcrowding on journeys to work, business travel and the overall attractiveness of the City as a business location.

  11.  The overall cost implications of lateness at work, loss of productivity, sickness absence, missed and rescheduled meetings and lost business due to public transport overcrowding and delays are considered to be significant. There is also concern that transport difficulties have an impact on the recruitment and retention of staff with consequent cost implications. Public transport overcrowding also affects the attractiveness of the City for inward investment if employers are faced with staff who are tired, stressed and uncomfortable on arrival at the workplace.

  12.  Although due in part to greater distances travelled, the average travel time to work in autumn 2000 for central London was 56 minutes, more than twice as high as the Great Britain average of 25 minutes. Addressing the travelling conditions for London commuters would therefore seem a priority but this has not been the case. The implication is that London commuters are not only having to endure overcrowded and unreliable travelling conditions, but for longer periods than elsewhere in the country. This is hardly befitting the quality expected for our capital city.

  13.  With services over-subscribed on networks incapable of absorbing any more passengers, the expected growth of population in London will, therefore, have difficulty in accessing new jobs by public transport. With the roads virtually at a standstill the options seem to be either adding to congestion or relocating elsewhere. Loss of jobs and a reducing economy are factors that London and the UK cannot risk.

  14.  Whilst our competitors overseas have added their third, even fourth, new transit schemes into their cities, Londoners are putting up with an old, unreliable system and conditions of extreme congestion. Major relief of overcrowding is therefore vital to sustain London in its present role as economic powerhouse, and extra capacity is also needed to provide for the future.

The Way Ahead

  15.  The existing central London railway network cannot reasonably carry any more trains. All peak period terminal station platform capacity is taken up and modern crash prevention systems being introduced (TPWS or Train Protection and Warning Systems) actually reduce the system throughput. The SRA's capacity utilisation strategy may result in some marginal benefits but what is really required are new rail lines to relieve the existing assets. In particular key schemes, such as Crossrail and Thameslink 2000, together can benefit the whole of London by relieving overcrowding and bringing faster access to jobs, markets and London airports. The Corporation argues that these are the two schemes London really needs to maintain competitiveness.

  16.  Crossrail is a relatively affordable project and could be built in phases firstly to relieve gross overcrowding in central London, particularly the Central line, and then link to existing radial routes. Further expansion could, subject to finance, be also linked to growth projects such as Stansted, a potential Olympic Stadium and the Thames Gateway as these areas are developed.

  17.  Uncertainty of funding and past low investment levels have created a hand-to-mouth existence for the Underground, but the Corporation welcomes the positive moves made by the Secretary of State to speed up the investment in this key mode. Funding of £6 million a day can be expected when the PPP comes into force which could secure early improvements in the replacement of rolling stock on the District and Metropolitan Lines, upgraded capacity and signalling on the JLE and, perhaps most critically, increased signals, track and carriage maintenance to improve overall system reliability for the benefit of all users. The Underground upgrades can add 15-20% new capacity across the system, but this may unfortunately take 15 years.

  18.  Buses appear to some to be a "quick fix" solution. However, costs are rising (according to the TfL business plan) at an inordinate rate for buses and will double by 2005. The number of people needing to access central London from the suburbs suggests that some of this investment is, perhaps, better suited to light rail or tram alternatives with their far higher capacity and quality. The Corporation is especially keen to promote the Cross River Partnership's London Tram project, linking Kings Cross, Waterloo and beyond as it offers enormous additional public transport capacity and regeneration potential north and south of the Thames.

  19.  The main issue with buses is reliability—bunching and long gaps in service lead to overcrowding and poor travelling conditions. Bus priority measures are helping but there is still a major problem with disruption due to badly planned or unplanned road works. Deregulation of the Statutory Undertakers in the 1990's gave many of the new utility companies the right to dig up roads, greatly weakening the management ability of Highway Authorities (less than 20% of holes are either planned or notified in advance). Mayoral policies in favour of soft modes, such as pedestrians, have further removed traffic signal "green time" from road traffic. Street congestion and journey time unreliability is consequentially severe in central London. Very little resilience remains in the road network which consequently means that severe congestion is becoming increasingly commonplace (recent examples include Vauxhall Cross and the Shoreditch Triangle). Action is urgently needed to address this issue.


  20.  It is hoped that the Secretary of State's interest in Crossrail will lead to firm actions and approval to proceed in the near future. The promotion of Thameslink 2000 by the SRA is also welcome. These are the two most critical schemes for reducing overcrowding and bringing the central London public transport services up to the level and quality worthy of a World City. Prompt action to implement the Cross London Tram and to properly regulate streetworks is also a pressing requirement.

  21.  Transport solutions extend beyond the life of most elected administrations. Consequently, transport has not received sufficient priority in the past leaving London with today's problems. It is essential, however, that these issues are now tackled with some urgency if London is to continue to prosper in the future.

City Remembrancer's Office

December 2002

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