John Dales, Co-Founder + Director
Today (September 20th), Urban Movement is participating in the Global Climate Strike, ahead of the UN Climate Action Summit on Monday (23rd). Many of our reasons for doing so are contained in this article by Bill McKibben. Amongst other things, we believe we need urgently to change how we travel, and so we’re also very supportive of World Car Free Day on Sunday (22nd).
With all this in mind, I was pleased to read a piece in the London Evening Standard last Wednesday (18th) entitled “Mayor of London Sadiq Khan backs plan to charge drivers levy for ‘needless trips to shops’”. On the same day, however, there was also a tweet from the Greater London Authority (GLA) Conservatives group which said “Sadiq Khan is planning to charge you to drive to the shops” and claimed that this “could cost you as much as £519 extra a year”.
The tweet featured a graphic with a picture of the Mayor next to a mocked-up ‘driving bill’ which carried the price tag ‘£519 every year’. The background to the graphic was a picture of a supermarket in which, rather hilariously, the prices on display are in Rand. Your driving bills certainly would increase sharply if your shopping trips involved going to South Africa and back. Lol
Gareth Bacon, the GLA Conservatives group leader tweeted his personal view that “what Khan thinks are ‘needless trips’ will be your big family shop, visiting the doctor, and getting to work.” He seems unaware that supermarkets can deliver direct to your front door; while the record suggests he’s entirely unwilling to promote the more environmentally-friendly modes of transport by which people might get to the doctor’s or to work instead of using the car.
Part of his record is ‘Highway robbery: the case against road pricing in London’ which he issued, unbidden, in June this year. It’s here we find that he plucked the £519 figure from a report by “top London economists CEBR” (as they modestly describe themselves) that posits a road user charging scenario that may bear no relation whatsoever to any that the Mayor may consider in due course. But – hey! – it’s a decent-sized number, so why wouldn’t Gareth want to mislead people with it?
Bacon’s ‘case’ also states that “our political opponents have pushed for ‘modal hierarchy’, in which walking and cycling are prioritised over public transport and public transport is prioritised over driving”, whereas “the GLA Conservatives have supported enabling the freedom of people to travel in the way that best suits them”. Putting aside the fact that, by this definition, his ‘political opponents’ include numerous Conservative-run local authorities, nowhere does he offer any ideas at all for changing the transport status quo, or demonstrate even the feeblest grasp of why it would be very good for London and Londoners if walking, cycling and public transport suited them better.
I wonder how many ‘Keep Calm and Let the People Die and the Planet Burn’ mugs he’s sold.
Bacon would also appear to have been sleeping on his job for quite a while. His tweet stated that “the Mayor has finally admitted today that he supports road pricing in London”, yet this is something that Khan wrote plainly in his Mayor’s Transport Strategy, published in March last year. This contains no fewer than three specific proposals to pursue road user charging and adds that “measures such as road user charging (where appropriate)… are essential to delivering an efficient and fair funding system”.
I realise, of course, that neither the GLA Conservatives nor their current leader, nor indeed any folk with a defined party affiliation, may actually believe what they say on occasions like this. Because, y’know, politics. But winning an election on a freedom-to-drive ticket could prove to be the ultimate pyrrhic victory.
To quote Debra Roberts, Co-Chair of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) working group: “The next few years are probably the most important in our history”.
The Nero Complex is defined as taking the position of ignoring something that should require your immediate attention. Rome, London, [insert where you live here] may be about to burn, and we need to call out those who seem content to fiddle.