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It is only twenty years since London’s population began to pull out of a fifty-year decline, and future growth should not be taken for granted.
Transport congestion is one of a number of factors, alongside high house prices and rents and the future type and location of jobs, threatening quality of life in the capital. London will not thrive unless it can manage the impact of growth as well as enjoying the rewards, keeping the capital an attractive and practical place to do business.
Over the next few weeks Centre for Cities will be holding a series of invitation-only seminars, hosted by Addleshaw Goddard, to explore the most urgent issues facing the London economy including the future of London’s transport. We will be reporting the results of our debates in July.
Anyone who has commuted regularly in London over the last decade will tell you that the tube, the trains and the buses have never felt so crowded, and recent Transport for London figures suggest they are absolutely right.
The 2011 Census population figures contained an unpleasant surprise for the capital’s transport planners. Transport for London (TfL’s) plans had previously been based on pre-Census estimates putting the Greater London population at 7.83 million people. The Census showed that this figure was in fact 280,000 people short of the real population – 8.11 million. These new numbers came on top of a 40 per cent growth in tube journeys since 1997, and a 14 per cent rise since 2007 alone. TfL now expects the population to increase by a further 1 million over the next 20 years, meaning that demand will reach the levels seen during the 2012 Olympics every day. London is growing faster than anyone expected, and public transport is feeling the strain.
The map below, showing projected rush hour congestion on the tube by 2021, was produced before the 2011 Census was published.
Source: Transport for London
The map predicts severe rush hour overcrowding on many central London routes, and estimates for rail services show a similar picture. These projections take into account improvements currently planned or underway, including Crossrail. Opening at the end of 2018, Crossrail will add 10 per cent to the network but London will never see most of its benefits, or those from any other current improvements, as the extra capacity will be taken up by increased demand.
Even the newest routes are struggling to cope with pent-up demand. Passenger numbers on the new London Overground service have increased by 150 per cent since it opened in 2011, with TfL obliged to bring its plans for longer trains forward in order to cope.
When the potential impact of High Speed 2 is considered, bringing 30 per cent more rush hour passengers into Euston, not to mention the wildcard that is new airport capacity, it becomes increasingly clear that new tunnels will no longer be enough on their own to keep up with demand. Instead, the Greater London Authority, the London Boroughs and TfL need to consider new approaches, for example a step change in cycling provision, or unpicking the commuting patterns that see the population of Westminster more than double every weekday. This is an urgent debate, and one we will be driving forward over the coming weeks.
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