Sadiq Khan: Pollution crisis on way as Londoners shun public transport

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  • Sadiq Khan
    Sadiq Khan
    British politician, Mayor of London (born 1970)
Traffic on the South Circular in Lewisham, south-east London (PA Wire)
Traffic on the South Circular in Lewisham, south-east London (PA Wire)

A warning of “one public health crisis being replaced by another” was issued today as figures revealed a huge shift from public transport to polluting private car use in London during the pandemic.

Mayor Sadiq Khan said that the capital faced a twin threat of “filthy air and gridlocked roads” that harmed the health of its population and could be costing its economy as much as £5.1 billion a year.

Tuesday’s data from City Hall showed that while the numbers of passengers on Tubes, trains and buses are still hugely down on pre-pandemic levels car use has been almost back to “normal” since last summer.

Bus ridership is currently at around 70 per cent of 2019 levels but use of the Underground network is still little more than half what it was two years ago.

The falling popularity of public transport among passengers worried about the risk of infection in crowded carriages more than offset a 22 per cent rise in cycling in outer London and a smaller seven per cent increase in inner London. The overall proportion of trips made by cleaner forms of transport — walking, cycling, trains and buses — fell from 63.2 per cent in 2019 to an estimated 58.3 per cent in 2020.

Mr Khan said: “If we do not double down on our efforts to deliver a greener, more sustainable future we will replace one public health crisis with another — caused by filthy air and gridlocked roads. The cost to both Londoners and the capital cannot be underestimated, with days wasted stuck in traffic, billions lost to the economy and increased road danger and health impacts.”

More than a third of car journeys made by Londoners could be walked in under 25 minutes, according to City Hall.

Data from traffic analysts INRIX suggest that London drivers spent an average of 148 hours stuck in jams last year, costing the capital’s economy an estimated £5.1 billion. Today’s report came as the Government’s UK Air website forecast high levels of pollution in parts of London tomorrow and on Thursday when slack winds will trap emissions in the capital.

Nick Bowes, chief executive of the Centre for London thinktank, has said the new figures show that “more needs to be done” to encourage Londoners to use more sustainable transport and that existing mitigations such as the Congestion Charge are “outdated”.

Mr Bowes added: “The Mayor needs to be bold and introduce a simpler, smarter and fairer system of road user charging which replaces both the Congestion Charge and the Ultra-Low Emission Zone. Such a scheme would tackle congestion and improve air quality.”

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