Murky Depths

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Greenwich borough, Transport

Reports that government order Congestion Charge expansion to north and south circular

Limit of congestion charge zone?

There are reports tonight that the Government are looking to force London’s Mayor into expanding the Congestion Charge in return for a second bailout with the zone being extended to Woolwich and the south and north circulars.

Other rumoured changes are forcing extra fare increases onto passengers.

UPDATE: No agreement has been reached. A two week extension in talks has been announced during a TfL meeting on 16th October. 

Heidi Alexander has stated in the meeting that Government are pushing for a £15 congestion charge within the south and north circulars.

She stated: “Neither the Mayor or I could see how it would be right to charge people £15 to drive a mile from Wandsworth to Clapham or from Catford to Lewisham from October of next year if the congestion charge was to be extended out to north & south circular“.

Click here to view the meeting with comments from Heidi Alexander after 1hr 40mins.

According to Sky News, a Mayoral source stated: “Conditions such as extending a £15 congestion charge to the North and South Circular and taking free travel away from children and older people would be totally unacceptable to the mayor and he would not ask Londoners to accept them in these exceptionally difficult times.”

Congestion zone boundary?

Whether you agree with an extension or not, this follows a similar pattern to the first bailout in spring when government insisted on expanding Congestion Charge timings to include weekends and until 10pm, as this segment of a letter sent from Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to TfL stating terms of financial assistance reveals. Shapps called for:

The above segment can be found, along with the entire letter, on page 64 of this document.

Since that change some Conservative politicians, including Mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey, have again and again tried to pin the blame on Mayor Sadiq Khan in an attempt to increase electoral chances – even after the funding agreement became public showing government insisted upon the measure.

Controversial street changes are also a Government requirement, as this screenshot from the same letter sent by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps shows:

It was also notable how the first agreement was only for a few months, thus more pressure could be applied six months on, which brings us to today.

It’s also notable how similar political games were not played when rail companies were bailed out.

Bailout mark 2

Despite attempts to portray bailouts as necessary due to financial recklessness, the real reason is fare income fell off a cliff – and London is more reliant on fare income than most other major world cities after it saw £700 million a year in funding cut by George Osborne in 2015.

London is heavily reliant on fares.

In London 72 per cent of TfL’s income is fares – which is Government policy. In New York it’s 38 per cent. Singapore is just 21 per cent.

Paris is 38 per cent and Madrid 47 per cent. London is far and away the highest – leaving it all the more exposed to a huge fall in ridership.

TfL’s own blunders

TfL have been accused of some financial failures and questionable decisions in recent years, though they were getting on top of operating costs before this year blew a whole in plans with operating deficit down from £1.5 billion in 2016/16 to £200 million in 2019/20 before crises hit.

Operating costs improving – until this year

Areas of criticism include the Silvertown Tunnel, though as a PFI capital spend that makes little impact on operating finances, as does arguments about senior staff wages. Even if both measures are taken into account, the cost is minuscule compared to £4 billion lost in fare income.

If an expanded Congestion Charge zone does happen, it would also blow the Silvertown Tunnel’s revenue plan out the water, which could perhaps see legal action from the private company Riverlinx awarded the contract to build and operate.

TfL have also failed to build housing around land they own, such as Woolwich DLR after a decade of no action. Woolwich Crossrail towers were also supposed to be well underway by now.

Empty land beside eastern Crossrail entrance

However, once again even if they had built and now saw a steady income stream, the scale of income shortfall is so great, little would ultimately change. And even if they were developed, would Government now be forcing TfL to sell them? Perhaps they will in the next bailout?

Crossrail is another issue some point the finger at, but it was a joint TfL and Department for Transport project, and it’s the DfT now hanging exerting pressure on London.

With the bailout rumoured to only last until December, the same tricks are likely to be pulled a number of times before the next election in May 2021.

None of this bodes well, with central Government apparently willing to let the capital’s economy flounder to support their mayoral candidate. What kind of city he inherits – on the off chance he wins – remains to be seen.

UPDATE: There is a TfL finance meeting this afternoon (16th October) which could shed more light on any plans and agreement.

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26 Comments

  1. HK

    To bring the congestion charge on top of the ULEZ to the north & south circular and raise fares will be devastating!
    Yes we should try to use cars less, but this is ridiculous!

  2. fromthemurkydepths

    Perhaps it will be pushed back to early next year for maximum political advantage. It’s clear though that Government pushed TfL finances into a position whereby overly reliant on fares compared to other similar world cities and already in a precarious position if a downturn or other event occurs, and then squeezed harder since the spring. The thing is many have fallen for it.

    • J Marsden

      Little sympathy. The automated Congestion charge zone was progressive and world leading when it was introduced in 2006. It lay stagnant for nearly 15 years with a couple of below inflation increases now and then while public transport saw above inflation increases every year. The whole of London should have dynamic street use pricing with automated weight checks on its old bridges by now. Every vehicle users is part of the problem. It’s about time the low tax businesses of online rail and private hire apps contributed directly. Because of the London political stagnation for a decade we are now in the perverse situation of both the Labour Mayor and Tory national government all wanting road use pricing as a solution to Congestion and pollution and for investing in public transport but not wanting to to come clean to the voter about the realities laissez faire Road use and economic policies.

  3. Yogesh Sharma

    In the words of Roosevelt “If you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.”

    Or in the case of TfL… “When you have them by their depleted bank account…”.

    TFL / the Mayor could force the Government’s hand and let what remains of their funds run dry and then shut-down the transport network and hope that provides them with more leverage due to workers (esp. Key Workers) not being able to get to their places of work.

  4. Reece Plaster

    But then how are my family going to go shopping and what about the people who live in that zone who have a car. £15 every day! Shocking! 😡

    • Bel Grant

      Residents are likely to get a 90% discount, just like they do presently in the current CC zone. All the same, at 10% that adds £1.50 per day to just keeping a car on the road and that is without the other costs involved, making it unaffordable at £45.00 per month, if used daily. I don’t know whether these plans only include cars that don’t meet the ULEZ or all cars – as is the case in the current CC. If so, driving will be pretty much wiped out for many people and so will small businesses. Also, my job – which involves fieldwork using a car all the time – will be wiped out along with it. There’s no way my business is possible without a car as it involves multiple house to house calls in all parts of London and surrounding areas. Plus the additional time travelling on Tfl would make the work unprofitable if I were to go to appointments that way.

      • HK

        The CC charge will be on top of the ULEZ charge!
        Apparently there is an issue on how they deal with central congestion charge zone if they extend the CC zone to the N/S circular, because people could potentially be able to drive into central London if they have to pay for driving within the N/S circular (if that makes sense) – unless they create another zone within a zone and you have to pay another charge!!!

  5. Kevin

    George Osborne cut the TFL budget back in 2015 while Boris Johnson was still Mayor Of London. (Not surprising as they never got on). However, I do believe the cut to TFL budget was unjustified.

    Sadiq Khan become Mayor of London in 2016 after the main budget cut.

    Sadly current Mayors fare freeze and the many TFL travel discount schemes have not helped TFL finances greatly reducing fare revenue.

    However, I do feel for the Mayor of London and TFL as no one predicted Covid-19 and the devastating effects it would have on the Capital and the Country, With public transport and the travel industry both severely affected.

    • fromthemurkydepths

      The fares freeze has been criticised, but rising prices would only increase congestion. The total cost over 4 years is estimated around £600m, which is less than one year’s cut enforced by central government.

      But like you say, it’s small fry compared to a £4 billion loss in just a few months from a rapid decline in passengers. It’s possibly now above £5 billion and rising.

  6. Rich

    This was all set up from the start. Gridlock half of London with stupid road closures, diverts and ridiculous road structure. Closing roads because of ‘rat runners’, filling in bus stop cut outs so buses hold up traffic creating queues, creating bike lanes that make no sense, putting traffic lights in places that are not necessary for example the junction of lights in Greenwich based where the old arches lesuire centre, reduced ferry service or closures from time to time. Traffic lights in the Greenwich area is ridiculous amount, why not implement give way crossings instead, instead I’ve seen many of idiots pushing the crossing button unnecessarily or when just walking past, no intension what so ever of crossing? Now we got a ridiculous road structure, now we have got mass amounts of gridlock what what wanted, we now justify a congestion charge for the area as it is now needed because of the f**k ups of the road, why not! Makes perfect sense only to an idiot! While we got this pandemic going on, we’ve now got the perfect excuse to justify more money out of londoners for the privilege to use out services because of funding issues with reduced numbers of people using the services. More or less every year there’s another rise in fares to use public transport, very encouraging to ditch your car for local journeys. These people in government and local authorities are just legalised gangsters. Do as we say, if you don’t we’ll make you pay, for example the congestion charge pay the charge, started off as a single charge.. We’ll introduce that then later on down the line we’ll make you pay double, we’ll introduce the ultra low emission zone charge also, then when where done with that we’ll up the congestion charge and extend the enforcement time also! The fares to travel on transport is only ever going to go up and up and up. Oh and while where at it, there already paying well over the odds to send there children a school, they have to go to school, so why let them travel for free, that’s money where not getting, charge them as well.. Why not. Pensioners haven’t payed enough into the pensions, they can’t afford to heat and eat, let’s take away there independence as well, that’s money again where losing.. Charge them as well. Greed! Now you tell me where the incentive is? I have feeling of what’s going to be the response to this comment.

    • Roy

      As Greenwich Council have no interest whatsoever in the ones who vote for Councillors…and we end up with a mix of Govt and their own Agenda…we as the ones suffering don’t stand much chance of changing anything.
      The Councillors we have…the ones I’ve been in contact with…are totally indifferent in the main….to any issue…and just go along with the flow.
      Unfortunately when children are being taught about Global Warming…Climate Change …which they say are caused by humans…then there’s no hope for common sense and rational argument.
      Most old people well remember paying half fare on the bus when we were children…and it wasn’t unusual for me to walk home….old age is rather different as through no fault of your own you may lose the ability to walk easily…

    • Sister

      It seems to me the people in this country are very stupid or can you sit down and make your government put congestion charge and you guys and you sit down and don’t say anything about it what does Congestion Charge has to do with the environment are they going to put back the money in the environment to stop climate change this is robbery under style

    • Cathy

      Rich. Yes, some of the local road schemes better than others and some won’t last, but not ALL public sector workers are gangsters…. there are plenty of just normal people designing and implementing new road layouts and things who are trying ways to make the city more pleasant and cut the 9000 early deaths of Londoners from air pollution. They know endless diesel and petrol cars isn’t the way to have a good city. Low income people, as in so many things the worse affected by air pollution. Some “gangsters” even genuinely want pedestrians and cyclists to be safer too.
      Comments about underfunding of public transport agreed though.

  7. Roy

    Looking at this from an issue of Politics…if you as Mayor feel the need to needle the Govt of a different hue you can hardly expect them to help out when there is an issue of the Govts own making. Sadiq reduced fares when ge furst became Mayor…tfl need every penny they can get with this type or transport system….especially as the Govt want to see it self funding……the fact is..vis a vis the NHS….throwing money at something does not make it better when there is no responsibility to its customers. Tfl…on the other hand…are particularly responsive….as they need our money. As the relationship between Sadiq and the Govt are hardly cordial…the Govt are going to take any opportunity to take control…its a human agenda…the Control Agenda…we have had 6 months of the Fear Agenda.
    Lastly…Air Quality…..building on silly ideas as Global Warming…Climate Change…..you can hardly expect less from this current generation…..and other cities are also involved in ” clean air “……

  8. John Norman

    Well, congestion charge clears the roads for a better class of of vehicle !
    This will hit poor people who cant afford it.

    A lot of SE London has bad public transport links and already packed trains – that you can’t get on during rush hour.

    Mind you – to counter my own argument – I think they should put a charge on the silver town / blackwall tunnels – but just a small amount.

    Controversially, i think you should not be able to build new property unless there are adequate facilities available. This should include sewer/water/electric/gas as well as public transport. For instance. No more building on North Greenwich until rush hour crowding is sorted on the Jubilee – or you give a viable alternative (bridge) to get to other transport links.

    But really the Government should work out why people need to use their cars. Look at the A102 when there is a jam in the morning and it looks like 60% vans going to work. I guess these people need their vans for their business – congestion charge wont change their need. Some car owners probably drive because there isn’t a viable route from source to destination.

    • Chris L

      The tunnels will be tolled.

      They also want to toll the ferry but this will require an act of Parliament.

  9. John Norman

    By the way, I think this blog is the best source of information for SE London that exists.
    Thanks and keep it up!

    • Graham

      John Norman I totally agree with you.100% Murky is a brilliant journalist which so much information we never get to hear about from anywhere else.

  10. Jo

    Central government in this country is power mad. I don’t like Khan, wouldn’t vote for him but he is the elected mayor and if we care at all about democracy that has to be respected. We have elections for a reason.

    If government want to butt in help a candidate, well its not surprising, but to throw about the chance of economic recovery in London to help a poor candidate, well that is rotten.

    This wouldn’t fly in most of the world but so many are blinkered here they’ll fall for the political tricks by Shapps, Johnson, Cummings etc hook line and sinker.

    • Larry

      I agree with the last post. Tfl and the provision of transport services in London are essential to Londoners and are too important to be used as a political pawn. Strange also that all governments Labour or Conservative or Coalition can find money for war and not for buses and tube trains. One F35 jet equals £100 million, one super carrier equals £3 billion and that’s before they have moved an inch!

      As for the oldies like me I have realised that I have been funding Tfl for nearly half a century so I think it is time I am shown some respect. It is not as if I have just arrived and demanded a pass; I have actually been paying LT fares since 1970s.

  11. Matt w

    Tories doing Tory stuff, not really a surprise. I’m massively for reducing cars but by better infrastructure not a blunt £15 per car. It’s pretty poor stuff from central govt and maybe not much London can do about it.
    If it kills Silverton tunnel that would be a silver lining.

  12. RV

    Govt seems to view London as a Labour enclave hardly any change last election, whatever loan deals they impose on TFL doesn’t mean much to their ‘base’…they’re just loan sharks when it comes to Transport & Congestion Charge. TFL held to ransom don’t think the Mayor is man for the job though

  13. Sean

    Typical government trying to screw us all again, shocking we are only trying to earn a living.

  14. Ian Thomas

    Hope zero emissions will be exempt from the extension charge

  15. Mohamed Touit-Ha

    It’s not good we can’t change our car. It’s just wrong and you know its not far.I need my car for work as I’m a care worker
    Thank you
    Mohamed

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