Traffic congestion in London has increased substantially since the 2012 Olympic year, with a five mile journey on the streets now taking an average 30 minutes in central London, up 48% over the period.
But the culprit appears largely to be roadworks and construction projects, according to a new report, while the rise of online shopping is also having an impact.
The report by consultants Inrix names London as Europe’s most congested city. It says planned roadworks are up 362% since 2012, while there has been an 8% increase in light goods vehicles. On public transport, Underground use is up 15.2% and bus travel has increased 6.3%. And since 2014, cycling is up 12%.
Car traffic including taxis is decreasing in central London, the report found. And taxi app Uber, which sponsored the research, noted that while there has been an increase in the number of private hire vehicles due to its arrival, these are not having a significant impact – they account for just 3% of registered vehicles in the capital.
Inrix chief economist Graham Cookson said traffic “is the sign of a healthy and burgeoning economy”. The capital’s population has increased, while its unemployment level has fallen. “Some have blamed the increase in congestion on the surge in the number of private hire vehicles (PHVs) on London’s roads, fuelled by their growing popularity,” he noted, but the figures do not bear this assertion out.
“Public transport passenger numbers continue to rise across all modes,” said Cookson. “There are now more passengers using public transport than during the London 2012 Olympics. There has also been an explosion in cycling across the capital, up 17% since 2012. Yet interestingly car traffic has been in decline, except in Outer London.”
Cookson said significant construction works were largely to blame, effectively limiting the supply of road space currently. “The vast majority of these disruptions are the result of on-going improvements to London’s transport infrastructure including, the £15 billion Crossrail programme and Transport for London’s £4 billion Road Modernisation Plan.” Installation of cycle superhighways is also having an effect, as are works to install “smart” traffic lights.
“Taken together INRIX predicts that these improvements will ultimately reduce congestion by 20%, whilst completing the projects will obviously stop the temporary congestion caused by their construction. In summary, it’s short term pain for long term gain.”
Cookson said changing shopping habits are also to blame. “As e-commerce grows rapidly, so too does the number of deliveries. This is seen in an 8% increase in the number of LGVs, vans in other words, on London’s roads. HGV traffic is also increasing, especially in Central London where it’s up 8% over the period. This may be due to a number of redevelopments in the city centre.”
David Leam, infrastructure director at London First, called on the mayor to act: “As this report shows, car traffic is actually decreasing in central London, while van traffic and roadworks have risen significantly. What’s needed is for the new mayor to ease off excessive roadworks, build new river crossings, devise a plan for managing freight and revisit measures to control congestion, including charging.”
LPA Perspective: This report has helped settle the assertion beloved of black cab drivers, that the new Uber app is responsible for making traffic worse. But more interestingly, it reveals other issues that need addressing.
Yes, there is clearly short term pain for longer term gain, in the form of a number of roadworks initiatives that are taking place around the capital currently. And, when Crossrail construction winds down, road access will improve. Though Transport for London has a number of other stations it wants to improve, once the Victoria interchange is complete.
Both the construction activity, and the white van delivery issue require a greater focus on delivery consolidation. TfL already offers, and gently promotes, the idea of consolidation of deliveries, with several recommended providers around the capital. A scheme is successfully running at Heathrow airport, while the boroughs of Camden, Enfield and Islington are working together on a consolidation centre doing grouped deliveries out of Edmonton. And construction projects are at the forefront of efforts to reduce truck movements, with rubbish from sites often shipped out on the river, if practical.
The white van deliveries are going to be harder to consolidate, working as they do on generally very tight timescales of next day delivery. But there are a number of areas that need proactively tackling – and tackling more aggressively than they are, currently.
Commuters need better facilities to have parcels delivered to their home railway stations; then, with some encouragement, click and collect would replace deliveries to their offices.
More encouragement from the mayor’s office, on several fronts, would be welcome. It is not that the freight industry is not trying – they are already working with electric vehicles and evening deliveries, to get around the congestion issues. But some central guidance will help focus minds.