Emblazoned on the older public buildings in Southwark, at the historic and geographical centre of London, you will find a powerful statement of public purpose, borrowed from Cicero: “The health of the people is the highest law.” With the UK’s multiple 21st century public health crises of air pollution, environmental degradation and growing obesity-related ill health, it’s clear that this “law” needs to be restated as a guiding force for the future development of London.
And through transport we have the opportunity to make a real difference. There’s no doubt how important a transport network is to a city. An efficient, functioning transport system spurs growth and speeds development, but it also has the power to transform day-to-day life. We’ve seen over the decades how London has thrived with a network that has been the envy of the world. But to stay at the forefront, the capital has had to move with the times, and now, more than ever, it’s vital that we do something bold, something different. That’s because around a third of journeys are still made by car every day and, although lower than many UK cities, this has led to inactivity, congestion, growing health problems and an air pollution crisis.
With London’s population expected to rise to 10.8m people by 2041 we have to make changes. We need more people walking, cycling and using public transport. That’s why the Mayor has published a bold new transport strategy that will create affordable, accessible and world-class transport for every Londoner over the next 25 years. It’s a strategy that puts these active travel choices and emissions reduction right at the heart of our capital’s future, and will significantly reduce our reliance on the car.
The issue of affordability is particularly important and one that Sadiq Khan acted on from the moment he took office. If we are to encourage more people to use public transport it must be affordable. It’s simply outrageous that TfL fares went up by 42 per cent between 2008 and 2016. Some said Sadiq couldn’t invest in transport and make it affordable at the same time, but that’s exactly what he’s done, and thanks to his freeze our passenger numbers are performing far better than the rail networks.
I have no doubt that this strategy will change London as we know it for the better, but it’s essential that we have support from the government in the short and long term.
We need their backing to deliver Crossrail 2 to support hundreds of thousands of jobs and homes, and prevent unprecedented overcrowding, as part of a co-ordinated major UK-wide development plan for rail transport infrastructure. We need the government to back rail devolution, having seen that allowing TfL to run the suburban lines is the fastest and most cost-effective way to guarantee better transport services to vast areas of south London.
But importantly we need the government’s backing now, too. With the economic uncertainty of Brexit, it’s more important than ever that we are supported because when London succeeds, the country succeeds.
But instead of support, they’ve taken away more than £700m per year in funding for our transport system. We have to keep London moving and get it started along this essential road to the future, but the government is effectively making us work with one hand tied behind our back by taking away our vital grant.
There are obvious consequences of a £700m per year reduction in government funding. It’s a significant budget reduction that means all non-essential road improvements have been paused for two years. There’s no doubt that this lack of proactive work could lead to an increase in disruption on the roads.
The government is also blocking us from accessing the new £220m National Clean Air Fund and the £1.7bn Transforming Cities Fund. Ridiculously, London doesn’t receive any dedicated roads funding – unlike all other parts of the country – despite more than £500m in Vehicle Excise Duty being collected from Londoners each year. Ultimately this means Londoners are paying for improving roads elsewhere in the country and the costs of running London’s roads are being subsidised from public transport farepayers.
This can’t go on.
Sadiq understands that transport doesn’t just impact on our daily lives by helping us get around; it also creates new opportunities, unlocks housing potential and shapes the whole character of our city. A blossoming transport network helps a city thrive. That’s why it’s so important that the government backs us and gives us the support we need to deliver an affordable, reliable and accessible transport network.
Thanks to his transformative efficiency programme at TfL, we’re delivering the new Elizabeth Line, investing more in step-free stations than ever before, creating the greenest bus fleet in the world and transforming our streets for the benefit of people walking and cycling, while keeping TfL fares the same and bringing down the cost of bus and tram travel, with the Hopper fare allowing unlimited journeys in one hour for the price of one. All this while the government has been taking away support and overseeing spiralling fare increases on the national rail network, with their passengers suffering from delays, cancellations and disruption.
Our bold strategy must begin a national shift towards a more progressive, environmentally friendly approach to transport policy. We want it to mark the beginning of a new appreciation of the importance of growing and improving our rail networks and services. And we want the whole of the UK to see how vital the role of walking, cycling and public transport can be in making us healthier and improving the places where we live.
It’s vital that this happens and it’s time for the government to get behind us for the good of the capital and the country.