Sadiq Khan is wrecking London’s revival with an ideological war on motorists
The mayor is squeezing drivers for cash and damaging the capital to fill the black hole in London's finances
After months of lockdown, London is desperate to get moving again. Yet amid deserted streets and dwindling economic activity, the mayor threatens to stall the capital’s recovery through an ideological war on motorists.
Sadiq Khan has argued that a “car-led” recovery would be undesirable, a position that deliberately ignores the fact that many Londoners have no choice but to drive. Thirty per cent of capital-dwellers still rely on their cars to commute and travel. Khan, and others like him, forget that the city stretches far beyond Tooting and Islington and driving remains the norm in much of Greater London.
As the capital gets back to work, many Londoners will have to change the way they commute. Social distancing measures have significantly reduced public transport capacity in London, meaning that many more journeys will need to be made by foot and bike. However, this gap can’t be closed by walking and cycling alone; cars, taxis and motorbikes must also play a part in reviving the capital.
While City Hall rightly looks at ways to promote cycling and walking, it must also ensure adequate space for motor vehicles. Yet the mayor has no interest in getting the balance right. His Streetspace plan has limited street lanes and involves shutting entire roads to create cycle lanes and larger pavements. These “temporary” measures have been rushed through without consultation and are already causing problems on London’s streets.
One of the worst Streetspace changes has been to busy Park Lane in central London, where a three-lane road has been reduced to one to create a new bicycle lane and another for buses. The inevitable result? Massive congestion. Even more ludicrously, Park Lane already has an extensive cycle network on its doorstep; cyclists continue to ride through idyllic Hyde Park while chaos reigns on the road.
The mayor isn’t alone in making ill-considered changes to London’s roads. Many councils have put forward equally poor plans. Lewisham council is intent on introducing a highly controversial low-traffic neighbourhood in the Oval Triangle area. Other Labour boroughs like Newham and Hackney have been forcing out cars for years with vast numbers of suspension-destroying speed bumps.
What London desperately needs are sensible, flexible, and responsive plans to promote walking and cycling across the city, which don’t result in gridlock for motorists. If a scheme doesn’t work, TfL must be brave enough to scrap it. If a cycle lane lies empty, it should be axed. And instead of celebrating the 27 per cent reduction in cars and 36 per cent fall in minicabs on weekends due to his congestion charge hike, Khan should consider the livelihoods that hang in the balance.
These anti-car plans have far more to do with politics than any environmental motive. The mayor is desperately trying to fill the black hole he has created in TfL’s finances. The fact that opposition predominately comes from Conservative-voting outer London boroughs has given Khan free rein to plough on with his flawed plans. The mayor doesn’t design plans fit for beyond Zone 1 because he doesn’t need votes from outside inner London; he has every incentive to penalise those living in outer boroughs with higher road charges.
That’s why Khan rushed the introduction of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone in central London, giving businesses, charities, and working people less time to prepare. It’s why he plans to extend the ULEZ charge up to the North and South Circulars, despite fears the infrastructure needed could cost £780 million, dwarfing the air quality benefits. And it’s why Khan hiked up the congestion charge by 30 per cent, extending it to evenings and weekends.
Transport for London is broke. Khan has run it into the ground. In four short years as Mayor, he squandered more than £640 million on a fares freeze which benefited tourists over commuters, maxed out TfL’s credit cards and increased its debt to a record £13 billion. Consequently, TfL couldn’t afford much-needed upgrades, 21 major transport projects had to be delayed or cancelled and the network needed a larger bailout following the pandemic.
For Sadiq Khan, squeezing every penny out of hard-working Londoners who drive and forcing them off the road is not just a political win, but helps fix a financial mess of his own making. This cynical war on motorists is jeopardising the capital’s recovery. As ever, working Londoners will pay the price.
Article by Keith Prince AM first published by The Sunday Telegraph.