London Calling

The challenges are the same the world over, says Transport for London Commissioner Sir Peter Hendy CBE. He also serves as president of the International Association of Public Transport (UITP), which gives him a unique perspective. The common features he sees are that cities are suffering from congestion and an essential part of coping with city life, economic growth and social cohesion is transit. London is no different.

“If you look at the big picture in London where the city has 8-1/2 million people and it is growing by about 70 or 80,000 people a year, it will reach 9 million people by 2018 at which point it will be bigger than any time since the start of the Second World War in 1939,” Hendy said. Added to that, he mentioned the people coming to London are disproportionately younger and the demand on the system is almost overwhelming.

Transport for London was created in 2000 and is responsible for the capital’s transportation system, including bus, rail, ferry, congestion pricing, roads and traffic lights, taxi regulation, and cycling and pedestrian initiatives. TfL has three subsidiary companies: London Transport Insurance Guernsey Ltd., TfL Trustee Company Ltd. and Transport Trading Ltd. (TTL). TTL also has a number of subsidiary companies.

The mayor of London has the duty to develop and implement policies to promote and encourage safe, integrated, efficient and economic transport facilities and services to, from, and within London. TfL has the responsibility of completing these duties for the mayor.

Hendy says the organizational structure has been very successful for them. “If you look at North America as an example where cities are used to having mayors, having a comprehensive transport authority that covers all of the transport in the city responsible for the mayor has proved to be a very durable way of meeting the challenges of a modern city,” Hendy stated.

 

Hendy background

CBE Hendy joined then London Transport as a graduate trainee in 1975. He has served in various positions, including managing director of CentreWest London Buses and deputy director UK Bus for FirstGroup. Since 2001 he had served as TfL’s managing director of surface transport and in 2006 was appointed commissioner of TfL.

“I’ve never really had a dull moment in 37 years,” said Hendy of his career in transport. “It’s got some fascinating people and it’s got some really big challenges.”

He was elected president of UITP in May of this year and added that one of the nice things about being president is that he meets people that do his sort of job around the world. “The organizational structures are different but the challenges are very similar.”

The “CBE” in his title stands for Commander of the British Empire and is an honor given by the Queen. He was given it after the terrorist attack in London in July 2005, when there were three explosions on the Tube and one on a double-decker bus. At that time he was in charge of surface transport, bus service and the streets. “I would say it’s not really an award for me; it was in recognition of the work that all the staff did in order to keep public transport going after the bomb attacks,” he said.

“Occasionally you get those bad people like in Boston; I don’t think we’ve ever felt that the city is under serious threat from prolonged terrorism.” He continued, “What you have to live with is the possibility or the actuality that three or four completely mad people might do something incredibly destructive and that’s all you can say, really.

“We are quite vigilant, but on the other hand, the nature of city life is [there are] several million people in a very small space. You can’t search everybody going into the station and you can’t search everybody going onto a bus.

“You rely on people to not carry bombs on board.” He stressed, “I know that sounds a bit trite, but that’s what the police and the security services are for.”

 

Rail

The Underground opened in January 1863 and earlier this year TfL celebrated its 150 years of service. It serves 270 stations and the eleven lines total 250 miles making it the fourth largest metro system in the world.

During peak hours they experience overcrowding as the system sees 3.5 million passenger journeys a day rising to more than 4 million on the busiest days. During the peak hours, more than 525 trains are in operation.

Currently they are spending more money on an annual basis in the modernization and upgrade of the tube because parts of it are so old. So while the Crossrail is a brand-new railway, they are working on the existing Underground lines, some of which are up to 150 years old.

The multi-billion pound investment program is helping to upgrade and expand the system and provide 30 percent more capacity. It includes new trains, signalling and track, as well as rebuilding some of the busiest stations. Right now they are in the middle of the largest order that they’ve ever made, Hendy said, in 191 new air-conditioned trains for the Underground.

With the increase in population and the propensity of people to choose to move by rail, the demand on the system is almost overwhelming, Hendy said. The signalling upgrade is one way they will gain capacity. “Traditionally our services run in the busy times 24 or 26 trains an hour, sometimes 28,” Hendy explained. “We’re now looking at 33 or maybe even 36 trains an hour, which is a considerable increase in total capacity when you think these trains carry several hundred people.”

The new trains with a different design will be straight through to provide more capacity within the train.

The third thing Hendy pointed out is that they are having to rebuild some stations because some of the capacity limitation isn’t how many people are on the train, but whether or not they can get to that train. There are massive station upgrades in place to increase capacity and curtail congestion.

Crossrail is a new railway across the center of London linking to the National Rail network on the east and the west. It will provide high-frequency service carrying 72,000 passengers per hour in peak times along the central section.

The project, which is just under 16 billion UK pounds, will be finished at the end of 2018. Hendy explained the funding, “It’s funded partially by a national government grant, it will be funded partially by fare revenue when it opens and it is also funded by a unique form for Britain of local taxation, which is a business rate tax levied on properties with the value of over 50,000 pounds in London.” He continued, “It’s the first time it’s being done and it was done after a lot of debate with businesses and it’s an indication about how much business thinks it needs public transportation.

“They were prepared to sign up for a supplement of the normal business rate for a period of 30 years to pay toward the scheme.”

“It is Europe’s largest construction project,” Hendy said. He also said it’s created thousands of jobs and it will secure London’s economic expansion.

The London Overground is an urban and suburban rail network that was established in 2007. The six lines cover 53.4 miles and has 83 stations. Though a TfL-branded service, the Overground is part of the National Rail network, operated by London Overground Rail Operations (LOROL). TfL sets fares, procures rolling stock and determines service levels.

“The Overground was originally two or three lines which are orbital rather than radial so they go around London in the suburbs,” Hendy explained. “We were originally given them I think really because nobody knew what to do with them.

“So we did up the stations, we have new trains and we’ve had an enormous upsurge in patronage.” To the extent that they’ve had to extend the length of the train to accommodate ridership.

He said they’ve proved that part of the national railway network could be turned into a good urban railway by applying metro principals to it: very frequent train service, attractive stations and new trains.

 

CYCLE HIRE

TfL oversees the bike-sharing program for in and around central London – Barclays Cycle Hire. The program launched in 2010. With a debit or credit card you can go to the nearest docking station and use a touch screen to “hire a cycle.” The cycle hire program is meant for short trips, so all trips under 30 minutes are free of ride charges.

More than 23 million cycle hires have been made and the program was expanded into East London in early 2012. Hendy said the mayor “is extremely keen on it” and has called for a western expansion of the program.

He said, “The only difficulty we’ve got with it is it’s actually quite costly.” He added, “And running it at the prices we charge doesn’t cover its cost so there is a subsidy to it and there’s also a capital cost to extending it.”

Barclays Cycle Superhighways are cycle routes running from outer London into central London. Four have been launched and there are an additional eight to be open by 2015.

The Superhighways were built to improve cycling conditions, to make it safer, faster and to provide more direct journeys into the city. Since 2000, TfL has increased the number of cyclists on London’s major roads by 150 percent. As part of the mayor’s cycle revolution, they are looking to increase cycling in London by 400 percent by 2025.

 

OYSTER CARD

The Oyster card is TfL’s prepayment smart card with an embedded contactless RFID chip. The card launched in 2003 and more than 8 million cards are used regularly, paying for more than 80 percent of journeys. The cards can be registered to provide balance protection. There are various payment options, including season tickets, weekly or monthly passes, and for the pay-as-you-go option, the system works out the cheapest fare for the journey within a fifth of a second.

Contactless payment cards can be used on buses instead of the Oyster card and they are looking to roll that out on to trains in 2014. “Our belief is the Oyster card will largely disappear in the next four years,” Hendy said about the change, “and will be replaced by Oyster accounts on people’s contactless bank cards.”

Hendy said they get very little cash – about 1 percent pay cash on the bus now. So much so that they intend to remove cash handling completely from their buses next year. “We’re trying not to handle cash,” Hendy stated. “Handling cash is very expensive.”

People worry about fare evasion, but he said that hasn’t been the experience. “Our experience is that the fare evasion rates are quite low provided that you have gated stations, which most of the metro systems in the world have.”

Fare recovery makes up for between 40 and 50 percent of TfL’s funding.

 

CONGESTION CHARGING

Congestion charging went into effect in 2004. The 10 pound daily charge for driving a vehicle within the congestion charging zone 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, excluding public and bank holidays. Payment of the daily charge permits driving into and out of the zone, re-entering as often as one wishes.

There aren’t barriers or tollbooths, people pay to register their vehicle registration number on a database and cameras read the license plate as one enters or leaves and checks it against the database of those who have paid or those that are exempt. The fee is payable in advance or before Midnight on the day of travel. People can also opt for an auto payment.

Residents living within or near the zone may be eligible for a 90 percent discount, as day-to-day travel would be affected. Overall the program has been a success, Hendy said.

“The truth is that would’ve never been introduced except that London’s businesses in central London were very much in favor of it in order to reduce congestion. Which is what it has done.

“We have reduced the number of cars in central London and we’ve also got a steady income stream.”

When asked about business impact, Hendy said, “Retail sales in central London have gone steadily up.” He added, “What it has done is when business needs to go around, it can get around with less congestion.”

 

FUNDING

In London, Hendy said they have a lot of experience arguing about funding for public transport because of the UK’s political system. “We’ve never had a long-term funding settlement for longer than five years ever. And we’ve only had those in recent years.” He stressed, “So we’ve got a lot of experience in advocacy.

With his involvement as UITP president Hendy meets with transportation leaders from throughout the world and he said, “I’m very interested that across the world there are many places which have really not felt the need for advocacy for public transport until now.

“The economic situation is quite difficult in many, many cities and loads of people are starting to have to find ways of arguing for increased capital funding for projects. From what I know of the U.S. that’s true.

“People are searching for ways of better advocacy for the money they need to keep their systems running and expand them.”

In terms of his presidency of the UITP, Hendy said advocacy of public transport is very important. “More than 50 percent of the population of the world now lives in the city and that number is rising,” he said. “Every city is getting more crowded. Every city needs public transportation in order to grow the economy and provide social cohesion and access to health and education and those sorts of things.”

“Usually across the world a lot of the other funding for public transportation comes from city funding or regional funding but the organization structures are different because the political history of the countries is different,” Hendy said.

For TfL, the main funding comes from fares and other income and grants from the national government. In Britain, Hendy said mayors have virtually no power to raise local taxation. “Because of that we are very experienced at arguing with national government for funding for transit schemes and that’s one of the things that I think is something to be shared in my presidency.”

TfL recently received a six-year capital funding settlement through 2015 but only a one-year revenue funding settlement at this time.

 

FUTURE

One of the biggest challenges Hendy said they’re facing is population growth. “While it’s nothing like the population growth in Third World cities, it’s still very considerable.”

TfL is also tackling funding to reduce the government subsidy while having to keep up with some of the things today that riders demand in an era when people carry mobile devices and expect more information and communication along with the demand for mobility.

“They’re not unique challenges to London; they’re pretty formidable in a city of 8-1/2 million people,” Hendy said about the issues.

He said one of the great lessons he’s learned, a lesson from the UITP, is, “… there is an awful lot to learn between different places.

“While we all have to carry on with the jobs we’ve got every day, actually sharing experiences across cities and across national boundaries is a really useful thing to do.”

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