Roundtable: The TfL Draft Business Plan
Transport news, like London buses, often seems to come in clumps. With the various recent announcements it would thus be easy to miss that TfL have published their draft Business Plan for the next decade. Due to the amount of information the Plan contains, several LR authors found themselves casting their eyes upon it, and thus we have decided to combine our efforts below.
Setting the Scene
Pedantic of Purley: Before we look at the details it probably makes sense to highlight the expected economic situation and the level of demand for the period covered by this plan. There may be a recession on, but in London the plan is to cater for growth. Indeed the Plan itself states that:
Over the next 20 years the city’s population is expected to increase by almost one million people and employment by more than 600,000 jobs.
What the Plan doesn’t state though is that current projections suggest that virtually all these jobs are expected to materialise in central London or Docklands. In other words, the jobs will be created where currently the most jobs are at present. This is a well-known phenomenon, known by economists as agglomeration theory, and if this hypothesis is correct then almost all this increased demand will have to be met by public transport. Essentially we can expect a significant further demand on public transport that will be disproportionately more than any population rise in London (itself expected to be significant).
Walthamstow Writer: It is also worth noting that funding for the contents of this plan is only in place to the end of the 2014/5 financial year, so a number of commitments are at this stage unfunded. The Plan is thus an opening gambit for discussions with Government about the next funding settlement.
John Bull: Those looking for promises of future large-scale infrastructure work will certainly be disappointed. The “quick fixes” and Olympic schemes of recent years are nearing completion and the big long term projects – Crossrail, Thameslink Phase II and the big station upgrades – will not begin to yield benefits until 2018 at the earliest. That doesn’t mean London is likely to be completely starved of investment, but a critical feature of the Business Plan is that it is generally only funded schemes – or those that realistically might get funded somehow (such as Tramlink’s Crystal Palace extension) – that are worth mentioning. So, as Walthamstow suggests, this is as much a starting point – the “known knowns” from TfL’s perspective as anything else. That makes it a good guide for the next five years, but less indicative of activity beyond that date. It’s a plan, not a manifesto.
PoP: Indeed. One should not expect anything exciting to come out of a business plan. Unfortunately in today’s modern media world the publication is not complete without the complimentary upbeat press-release trumpeting the benefits of the plan. This has inevitably led to a criticism from opposition parties that the business plan contains nothing new. Well of course that is true, but is not the point. What the Plan does is confirm which parts of the Plan have funding and give a timescale for specific projects. It must also be borne in mind that any project not funded by TfL is unlikely to get much of a mention – hence why the Croxley Rail Link is not referred to at all within the text.
On the Underground
WW: The Plan includes the continuation of current committed LU line upgrades, covering the Northern and Sub-Surface lines. There is no funding committed to delivery of Piccadilly, Bakerloo, Central / W&C upgrades (“Deep Tube”) although planning work continues. Despite predictable headlines the “driverless trains” phrase is not actually included in the document.
PoP: This is perhaps one of the first times we see an admission that Deep Tube is not going to produce any benefits before 2020 in print. Indeed the telling statement included is that:
TfL is developing a programme for the next generation of line upgrades, which will focus on the Piccadilly, Central, Bakerloo and Waterloo & City lines. On these lines steady performance is enabled through rigorous maintenance, but the lines rely on out-dated infrastructure.
So Deep Tube isn’t dead, it just has a more realistic timetable.
JB: Interesting to see confirmation that Deep Tube now fully embraces the Waterloo & City line and the Central line. The latter may seem surprising, but the motors on the 1992 stock (which is common to both lines) have always been problematic. So an early retirement for this stock would not be unexpected. What it does mean though is that Deep Tube will have to abandon the concept of a single train length that fits all lines.
WW: There is also mention of the Northern Line Upgrade 2 (NLU2) which would see service separation, enhanced frequencies and additional rolling stock being ordered. If NLU2 progresses then the Plan also states that further trains would also be ordered at the same time for the Jubilee Line to add capacity by increasing service frequency. There are no details as to how many extra trains might be purchased though.
PoP: A practical consideration for this further upgrade is that the train service cannot realistically be increased before Bank station upgrade is finished (due in 2021) as one would not want to introduce a more frequent service and then shortly afterwards deal with issue of a temporary severance lasting a period of weeks.
With regards to the additional trains, it is interesting to speculate here as to whether these will be the same new generation trains as proposed for Deep Tube. If so, that could mean that all the deep level tube lines except the Victoria line would be partially or totally served by the same generation of rolling stock by the early 2020s.
JB: Worth noting that the Northern line Battersea extension’s planned completion date of 2020 would nicely fit in with any additional rolling stock orders. The Business Plan does mention the extension, but only briefly, which is understandable not only because it will still (allegedly) be developer-funded, but also because the Plan predates (just) the Chancellor’s statement which guaranteed to underwrite loans for it.
PoP: A final point on the Underground before moving on – the Plan does not mention Camden Town, so it is probably safe to presume that there is no short term prospect of this tube station being rebuilt. It follows from that that a complete segregation of the Northern line, a very long-term aspiration, is actually decades away.
On the Overground
WW: Overground trains are to be lengthened on all lines, but there is no statement as to how long a longer train will be. We do know from other sources that the Class 378 EMUs will be extended to 5 cars. There is no word on electrification of the Gospel Oak – Barking line (GOBLIN).
JB: Capacity enhancement on the Overground is going to be a huge headache for TfL to plan in the coming months, largely thanks to both those points. It’s worthy of a post in itself, but the “short version” is that without knowing the future of the GOBLIN, it’s going to be incredibly difficult for TfL to plan capacity enhancement across both that line and the Overground itself. Adding a third car to the 172s would seem like a no-brainer, but Bombardier all but indicated they didn’t want the work earlier this year by pricing it high, forcing TfL to start the process of tendering for new diesel rolling stock.
Electrification of the line, whilst it would bring its own cascade problems, would thus potentially make things easier by opening up the option of running 378s – in some configuration – on the line. There is some suggestion from sources that TfL were hoping for a GOBLIN mention in the Chancellor’s statement, but that was not the case meaning an electrification decision now almost certainly depends on the freight pot to be allocated in January.
This all leaves TfL in a bit of a sticky position, capacity planning-wise. Do you plan for an all-electric fleet across all Overground lines, and adjust your units, orders, and upgrade milestones accordingly? Or do you commit to a diesel fleet on the GOBLIN, thus fixing that as the future there for the foreseeable future? I doubt it’ll be a stress-free Christmas for whoever has been given the Capacity Upgrade Project Porfolio within Rail for London.
WW: There is one short term positive – a service improvement of an extra two trains per hour is proposed for the East London Line. Presumably to Crystal Palace as per earlier TfL aspirations.The Plan also includes target dates of 2015 for the ELL and GOBLIN improvements, and 2016 for the NLL, WLL and Euston – Watford line.
WW: DLR’s Stratford – Bow Church section is to be fully double tracked by 2019. Worth noting that some of this work is already under way because of Crossrail works to move Pudding Mill Station, however the section closest to Bow Church will be an interesting challenge.
PoP: What is perhaps most surprising is that we are told that “The route between Stratford and Canary Wharf, in particular, has seen very rapid growth” and that train kilometres will go up from 5.7 million in 2012/2013 to 6.4 million in 2013/2014. Given that no rolling stock is being ordered it is hard to see how this would be achieved other than by running shorter trains more often.
JB: It would appear, from the paucity of DLR coverage, that the near continual expansion of the DLR has come to an end. With perhaps the Dagenham Dock extension (dependent on Thames Gateway regeneration) excepted, it is becoming less likely that suitable routes will be found above ground. With the demand for public transport only rising, it will become more likely that any below ground infrastructure will justify use as a tube or Crossrail-style line going forward.
WW: Moving away from the DLR, Tramlink is to get 4 extra trams and more track doubling on the Wimbledon line including works at Wimbledon Station. This capacity enhancement project is shown with an April 2015 completion date.
There are no firm commitments to extensions to Tramlink other than referring to ongoing “stakeholder consultation” and trying to identify funding. One wonders if this refers to contributions being sought from local councils given there is precedent for this on several recent TfL projects.
PoP: The four extra trams are, I suspect, the Stadler trams that TfL currently have an option on.
On the Buses
WW: The Plan commits to having 1600 hybrid buses in service by 2016. This is the grand total for such vehicles and includes the recent order for 600 New Bus for London vehicles. It therefore suggests that about a further 600 buses will be ordered via the route contracting process. These buses will be largely concentrated on Central area routes so as to assist in reducing harmful emissions.
PoP: The report acknowledges that:
London’s buses are the most used public transport mode and are responsible for around a fifth of all daily journeys in the Capital.
What is surprising then is that the report makes it clear that mileage will hardly increase at all and indeed passenger numbers are expected to remain virtually constant. Most of the focus is on those hybrid buses. Indeed arguably the entire emphasis seems to be on producing cleaner less-polluting buses on the basis that reducing emissions, rather than expanded services.
WW: Indeed. There is no increase in total bus kilometres to be operated other than 300K from the current financial year to next year (2013/14) then the projection is flat. This is despite a projected 24 million extra journeys in 2014/15. This lack of expansion or network development stands out especially when LU, DLR, Overground and Trams all see kilometrage increases each year.
Beyond the buses themselves, several TfL bus stations are to be upgraded by 2015. Part of the upgrade scope will be to improve environmental performance and reduce power use. Edgware, Harrow and West Croydon are three of the stations listed. 95% of bus stops are also to be fully accessible by 2016.
On the Roads
WW: Substantially more money is to be spent on roads to deal with decaying bridges and viaducts, removal of, or improvement to, some major gyratory schemes and more Split Cycle Offset Optimisation Technique (SCOOT) technology at traffic lights. There will also be more “Countdown” indicators at pedestrian crossings to show how many seconds remain for pedestrians to cross the road. The Roads Task Force will help define the detail of road investment proposals. These promises are in line with the Mayoral manifesto to invest in roads.
PoP: One must never forget that publications such as the TfL Business Plan come under the remit of the Mayor. As such there will inevitably be a political element to the presentation. It is important to separate this presentation from the facts themselves. The political factor present is that the current Mayor gets his majority through votes in the outer suburbs where any “bash the motorist” proposal does not go down well. Although he may be at pains not to bash the motorist, Boris must be aware that there is very little that he can sensibly do in terms of providing more roads etc.
The result of all this is that a lot of money will be spent on “roads” but necessarily on much that will benefit the private motorist. The mayoral spin seems to have worked though as the BBC reports plans to double spending on London roads.
Given that the BBC recently reported on a surprise tentative belief that demand for car use is peaking or has peaked, a focus on “road” spending is an interesting stance to take. This phenomenon has been noted in many European cities as well as the USA but no serious research has been done to discover the precise reasons for this. This is not believed to be primarily due to fuel prices as it is thought that this would simply reduce the number of miles a particular individual travelled by car in a year. What has been observed is a more fundamental shift where city dwellers under 25 simply don’t bother to learn to drive. Another reason given is the very high cost of insurance for younger drivers which is probably a major factor in the UK.
JB: One of the more interesting points that surfaced during BBC coverage of “the decline of the car”, to my mind, was the tentative suggestion that we are actually turning a corner where public transport is becoming good enough and the desire to own a car being less aspirational than a generation ago. It’s certainly an interesting idea.
There was further speculation that technology and the ability to use our time more productively on public transport than behind the wheel may play a part. If so then factors like providing reliable, accurate real-time travel information for the journey and Wi-Fi and phone coverage are becoming an important factor when deciding what mode of transport to use.
WW: In line with that, it is worth noting here then that the Plan indicates that a new TfL website will be launched in 2013. It will give easier access to TfL services and will work more effectively on phones and portable computing devices. There will be upgraded online facilities for Oyster card holders including dealing with incomplete journeys “automatically”. TfL will move to an “account basis” for users of TfL services with the website having the ability to retain your travel and service preferences all together.
WW: Contactless bank card acceptance on buses will launch this year – expect an announcement imminently. It will be extended to LU, DLR, Tramlink, Overground and National Rail in late 2013. The Oyster card will be retained for season ticket holders and those who do have a contactless debit or credit card. ITSO card acceptance on the TfL network will launch formally in late 2013. There is no mention at this stage of the South East Flexible Ticketing Project and how this affects TfL.
JB: Presumably “this year” means we’ll see limited trials on limited bus routes. Nonetheless, it’s a big step forward for a project that’s not gone as smoothly as TfL hoped. The confirmation of ITSO acceptance is interesting, and presumably means that we’re now finally heading towards one standard, in the London area at least.
WW: A Cycling Vision will be published shortly by the Mayor. Plans so far include junction improvements, extension of Cycle Hire scheme to inner SW London, completion of all cycle superhighways. There is also mention of the proposed Central London cycle route to link the superhighways and possibly safer, segregated routes. There is no obvious commitment to the “Go Dutch” principles of full segregation. 80,000 extra cycle parking spaces by 2016 are promised at stations and interchanges.
WW: Fares will rise by RPI+1% until 2015. The percentage rise beyond this date is undefined presumably because there is no funding settlement and there is the general election in 2015. The Plan states clearly that the Mayor is responsible for determining the level of fares increases.
WW: Much remains to be decided and there is a clear dependency on the outcome of the next funding settlement with Government for major expenditure beyond 2015. The timing of certain deliverables suggests that there is a clearer intent to have specific items identified with the current Mayor’s term of office than before. The longer term future of London’s transport system is less clear as there is no defined programme of major improvements to the Underground, Buses, DLR or Tramlink. The Overground is being dealt with to avoid a situation of a successful service becoming tainted by ever increasing overcrowding. Development beyond 2016 hinges on the Government’s decision about devolution of rail franchising powers.
JB: Many will be disappointed by what they would see as a lack of “progress” in the next few years. It really does have to be remembered though that investment in transport projects in London in the previous decade has been absolutely exceptional. Against the background of the unfavourable current economic climate, the Business Plan could at least be seen as pushing forward in some way, rather than stagnating. That said, held up against the projected passenger projection figures elsewhere – especially on rail – it’s a less positive document.
PoP: The Plan does seem to anticipate a remarkable lack of growth. Indeed it is curious that it reports large growth in recent years, yet in most cases expects this to almost plateau in the forthcoming few years. The worry is that other indicators suggest that this will indeed not be the case. It is probably the case that overall the disruption that Thameslink reconstruction will cause at London Bridge over the next few years will exceed all the gains made by TfL put together. Judging by this report we might have a slightly cleaner city in the next five years, but we have to look to Crossrail and Thameslink completion in 2018 before we see any large improvements to transport in London.