London Mayors are often accused of 'taking sides' when it comes to transport. We've had Boris bikes and Livingstone's Congestion Charge, but we've lacked the ideas to streamline transport for all. London needs a policy that benefits cyclists, public transport users and motorists alike.
A Transport Policy for All
It is time to tackle London's congestion problem, for the sake of its transport system, finances and environment. It is estimated that congestion costs London £4bn per year, and the problem is getting worse: in 2014, the European Union Commission launched legal action against the UK for breaching its air pollution rules. With the population expected to rise by 14% in the next decade, it is a problem that will not simply disappear- we need to do something about it.
Alarmingly, the congestion problem is deadly as well as costly. In 2008 alone, there were 4,267 deaths attributed to long-term exposure to pollution. King's College professor and air quality expert Dr Gary Fuller recently announced that London's nitrous dioxide levels exceed EU limits by a factor or two to three. Surprisingly, these levels can be found in places like Brixton and Putney; not just the crowded centre. ClientEarth, the environment consultancy, described pollution levels in the UK as a 'national disgrace', and specifically London, which has a 'particular problem'.
In the past, the solution has been to make life difficult for motorists, to encourage them to use alternative means of transport. Reducing emissions and congestion while remaining hospitable to motorists appears like something of a puzzle, but it can be done with innovative solutions.
Car Clubs: a Solution?
I believe that car clubs can help us to meet these challenges. London is the car-sharing capital of Europe, and is second only to New York City worldwide. Aside from being environmentally-friendly, evidence shows that car-sharing helps transport run smoothly for everyone, no matter how you get from A to B.
Car club members make, on average, seven times fewer local journeys than car owners do, and are twice as likely to take the bus and to cycle. The data suggests that when people switch from owning a car to sharing one, not only do they drive less, but they often end up selling their car if they already own one.
To further tackle the problem, I propose to incentivise car clubs to go electric. As it stands, charging stations are spread thinly around London and are expensive to own privately. For many people interested in the idea of owning an electric car, it is simply too much of a commitment. Electric car ownership should be easy and viable, not costly and inconvenient.
On average, car club vehicles are shared by 75 people. If we can boost the electric car infrastructure and encourage people to use them, we could go from 'one unit, one car, one family' to 'one unit, one car, 75 families'. Faster journey times, cleaner air; think of the potential. What's more, each of those drivers become advocates for electric car driving - which now that they can also run on fuel means there's never a worry about charging or long journeys.
Co-operating with TfL
There is a number of ways that we could bring about these changes. As Mayor, I would make sure that funding from the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) was directed towards providing more charging stations to make electric cars a more convenient option.
I would also work closely alongside TfL to make sure that the system ran efficiently. One of my key ideas, the London Card, would help to streamline the whole experience. It could be used much like the current Oyster system, but including public transport, bikes and charging stations. With the right pre-pay partner, this card could also help you buy your newspaper. In fact I'm meeting TFL today to discuss just that..
The system I am proposing will also be digitally integrated, so users could easily discover their nearest car club parking bays, and by making sure that car club locations are displayed on the relevant maps published by TfL.
London has a great transport infrastructure with a great tradition- like many of us, I was excited by the return of the Routemasters and their iconic style. It is possible to meet the growing transport challenges that London faces without overspending and overtaxing - we just need some innovative solutions.
Our Future London
Readying ourselves for an infrastructure fit for the future, it's worth considering driverless cars. It's early days, but trials in Greenwich show once again that London is the home of innovation. The government has invested £19 million in the trials, which in turn is an investment in British manufacturing. A report released this week also estimated the industry could potentially generate 320,000 UK jobs. I see this also as an investment in the future infrastructure of our city. The government is also readying legislation to accommodate the changes such technology will bring - by as early as Summer 2017.
Drivers in London spend on average 30 hours stuck in traffic a year - that's of an average 230 hours driving. Such future technology would not only free up that time (meaning the commute becomes useful), but also - through data-driven logistics - head off congestion before it becomes a jam. This is before we even think of the potential benefits to reduction of accidents and the environmental impact it could have.
Such technology would work in the infrastructure created by embracing car-pooling, it ensures that our city adapts to the potential future of a 'subscription economy' where there's no need to buy a car. If this sounds far fetched, you only need to look at the trials happening in London, George Osborne's pledge in last week's budget of £100 million towards the industry, or the investments Google, Apple, IBM, Tesla and even Uber are slowly ramping up to. It's a market with a potential worth of £900 billion in the UK alone by 2030.
This infrastructure may be some 10-15 years in the future, but as Mayor I will not be seeking short term strategies for London's transport challenges. When I visited the Victoria Station redevelopment, I saw the incredible adaptability of its engineers to using new technology coming to market. It's this spirit that I will bring, solving problems with what we have now for all users of our roads. I will do this however with an eye on the future to ensure we don't get hamstrung, or held back by status-quo politics that's gridlocked by tribalism - rather than based on the needs of Londoners.