People in outer London need help switching from the car, says Centre for London

Poor transport options increase reliance on the car

04 July 2023
 

People living in outer London suffer from a lack of reliable and convenient alternatives to driving such as public transport links compared with those in inner boroughs, according to a new report by think tank Centre for London. The organisation argues that areas with better access to public transport tend to have lower rates of car ownership

Moving with the Times: Supporting sustainable travel in outer London explores ways to make walking, cycling, car clubs and public transport better for local trips – not just commuting in and out of central London.

In outer London, the travel environment is focused more on private car use, with less public transport and lower densities of cycle lanes, cycle parking and shared car and bike schemes, says the report.

This lack of good alternatives means that many find it difficult to give up their cars, says the think tank. It found that 69% of households in outer London have access to or own a car, compared with 42% in inner London and 77% across England as a whole.

In outer London, driving is used for travel twice as much as within inner London – 38% of journeys compared with 19%.

The difficulties of sustainable travel that are faced by people living in outer London have come to the fore this year, with proposals for ULEZ expansion and ongoing issues with the suburban rail network.

Compared to inner London, outer London suffers from a lack of reliable and convenient alternatives to driving (such as public transport links) – with the result that many people find it difficult to give up their cars.

What needs to change?

The Centre for London sets out priorities for change that would help meaningfully improve access to sustainable modes of transport for most people in outer London. Its key recommendations are:

  • Increase the coverage of the cycle network in outer London: Transport for London and local authorities should prioritise safe, segregated cycle lanes suitable for a range of micromobility vehicles. New routes should support local journeys for leisure and family purposes as much as journeys into central London.
  • Commit to new public transport routes for new developments: Transport for London should commit to introducing new bus routes for new developments before those developments are completed, so that they can offer better public transport links and less car parking. This could be paid for partly through the early release of developer funding (or borrowing against such funding), but additional funding may also be required.
  • Deliver shared transport more consistently: London Councils or the GLA should work with local authorities to design a procurement framework for shared transport modes such as car clubs and shared bike schemes. Local authorities may choose to jointly procure shared services, or temporarily reduce fees for operators to increase coverage in areas with lower population density.

Taking up these recommendations would bring long-term benefits for people in outer London, says the Centre for London. However, many will require additional funding for local authorities and Transport for London to deliver them. The centre recommends that additional funds are either allocated from central government or generated by granting the Mayor of London greater powers to raise money in the capital.

Removing barriers

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan should develop an Outer London Transport Strategy to systematically consider people’s travel needs – “with more weight given to local journeys that don’t commence or terminate in central London”. This will support the shorter trips that are disproportionately made by women, as opposed to longer trips for commuting, the report states, adding that decision makers should always consider the equality impacts of transport planning decisions.

Improvements that make it easier to walk or cycle vary in cost in the capital, with the cost largely covered by councils, Centre for London observes. “However, the application process for some funds is time-consuming and inefficient, posing a barrier for local authorities with limited time resources and squeezed budgets,” says the report.

“Local authorities face financial and political barriers to reallocating road space for more sustainable uses.”

The coverage of the cycle network in outer London should be increased, says the think tank. It calls on Transport for London and local authorities to prioritise safe, segregated cycle lanes suitable for a range of micromobility vehicles. “New routes should support local journeys for leisure and family purposes as much as journeys into central London.”

Space should be allocated to sustainable modes, with councils finding on-street space for cycle hangars, shared micromobility schemes, and car club vehicles “even if this means reallocating space allocated to private cars,” says the report. 

Shared transport

More should also be done to encourage shared transport, says the report. London Councils or the Greater London Authority should work with councils to design a procurement framework for modes such as car clubs and shared bike schemes, making it easier to share best practice.

“Local authorities may choose to jointly procure shared services, temporarily reduce fees for operators to increase coverage in areas with lower population density, or to require new developments to provide space for shared vehicles by default.”

New public transport routes should be an integral part of new developments, states the report. “TfL should commit to introducing new bus routes for new developments before those developments are completed, so that they can offer better public transport links and less car parking. This could be paid for partly through the early release of developer funding (or borrowing against such funding), but additional funding may also be required.”

Bus expansion

While some progress has been made on providing active travel infrastructure, there has been less progress on bus expansion, the think tank notes. “The recently announced ‘Superloop’ orbital bus route may improve this. The COVID-19 pandemic and the financial problems it caused for TfL have made public transport improvements much harder, but the underlying need for more sustainable options has not changed.”

TfL should also commit to introducing new bus routes for new developments before those developments are completed, the report suggests. This would make it possible to offer better public transport links and less car parking, it says. “This could be paid for partly through the early release of developer funding (or borrowing against such funding), but additional funding may also be required.”

The DfT should work with Transport for London to improve the reliability, speed and frequency of services in outer London, the think tank says. “Although capital investment will be needed, improvements will deliver a range of long-term benefits – including making it easier to travel into and around London.”

Key observations

The Centre for London report illustrates why the way people travel matters, shows why some outer Londoners feel they have no option but to drive a privately owned car, and proposes policy changes that would support more people to travel sustainably.

Why transport in outer London matters

  • For some people in outer London, accessing jobs and amenities, visiting family, and travelling to new places would be very difficult without a private car; others choose to drive but could in principle make their journeys using different modes of travel.
  • 69% of households in outer London have access to or own a car, compared to 42 per cent in inner London and 77% across England as a whole.
  • If people drove less in outer London, this would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution and congestion – and providing improved alternative transport options to achieve this could widen access to economic and social connections.

How people travel in outer London today

  • In outer London, the most-used forms of transport are walking (38% of journeys), driving or being a passenger in a private car (38% of journeys), and using public transport (20% of journeys).
  • In outer London, driving is used for travel twice as much as within inner London (38% of journeys compared to 19%).
  • In outer London, the travel environment is focused more on private car use, with less public transport and lower densities of cycle lanes, cycle parking and shared car and bike schemes.

What’s holding things back?

  • The high cost of new infrastructure, particularly for major rail projects, is a barrier to delivering better alternatives to car use in outer London – especially since Transport for London’s revenue fell substantially following the COVID-19 pandemic. It seems possible that London will not be a national priority for capital investment in the coming years.
  • Improvements that make it easier to walk or cycle vary in cost. Funding them largely falls to local authorities: however, the application process for some funds is time-consuming and inefficient, posing a barrier for local authorities with limited time resources and squeezed budgets.
  • Local authorities face financial and political barriers to reallocating road space for more sustainable uses

Policy Recommendations

  1. Provide sufficient funding: Local authorities and Transport for London need both additional funding and the ability to plan spending with certainty. Government needs to give London the power to raise the funds it needs.
  2. Improve planning and funding decisions: The Mayor of London should develop an Outer London Transport Strategy to systematically consider people’s travel needs – with more weight given to local journeys that don’t start or end in central London.
  3. Improve the rail network: The Department for Transport should work with Transport for London to improve the reliability, speed and frequency of services in outer London. A more reliable service will make it a better option for connections.
  4. Increase the coverage of the cycle network in outer London: Prioritise new safe, segregated cycle lanes suitable for a range of micromobility vehicles. These should support local journeys for leisure and family purposes, not just commuting to central London.
  5. Make walking and cycling more pleasant: Better street lighting, clearer pavements, and safer cycle lanes.
  6. Commit to new public transport routes for new developments: Transport for London should commit to introducing new bus routes for new housing developments before those developments are completed. This can be paid for from developer funds.
  7. More parking space for sustainable travel: Finding extra on-street space for cycle hangars, shared micromobility schemes and car club vehicles – especially around key transport hubs such as bus stops and train stations.
  8. Share best practice on shared transport modes: The GLA and councils should work together to share best practice for procurement of shared transport modes such as car clubs and shared bike schemes.
  9. Listen to people’s concerns and opinions: Engage with the public to discuss major changes, including with those less likely to use sustainable modes of transport. Early and comprehensive public engagement will improve both public trust and the quality of schemes.
  10. Encourage the shift away from private cars: Engage with people who don’t currently walk, cycle, ride public transport, or use car clubs much – with the aim of helping them find out how they can use them and what support is available.

Centre for London’s next report, to be released later in the summer, will investigate how the costs associated with travelling across London influence travel behaviour.

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