Londoners could be at greater risk of health problems from air pollution due to the changes the pandemic has brought to the way people travel in the capital, the mayor of London has warned.
According to Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, pollution causes the untimely death of 4,000 Londoners every year, increasing the economic and financial burden on health services.
Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the use of public transport has declined and has yet to regain 2019 levels as people try to avoid crowded spaces that put them at risk of contracting the virus .
The share of public transport trips in 2020 fell by fourteen percent compared to 2019, while car use remained high.
Travel by car has been the most resilient mode of transportation throughout the pandemic, with use near pre-pandemic levels for much of the second half of 2021.
Meanwhile, according to the mayor’s office, more than a third of car journeys made by Londoners could be done on foot in under 25 minutes and two-thirds could be done by bicycle in under 20 minutes.
Khan warned that unless efforts are made to emphasize sustainability during the recovery from the pandemic, the city could face a “public health and economic crisis.”
Public transport ridership has dropped 95% and is currently still far below pre-pandemic levels, with buses at 70% of normal demand and subways at 55%.
While the use of public transport is on the decline, figures from TfL show that cycling during the pandemic increased by 22% outside London, compared to spring 2019, with a 7% increase in the interior of London. Participation has also widened, especially among people from ethnic minority communities.
September and October 2021 were both record months for Santander’s bicycle rental program, with October seeing over a million rentals for the first time.
Since 2011, as London’s population has grown, the number of kilometers traveled on its roads has increased significantly, increasing by 3.5 billion kilometers between 2011 and 2019, from 19.1 billion kilometers in 2011 to 22, 6 billion kilometers in 2019.
Data from external providers shows that as the number of kilometers driven by vehicles has increased, the time lost by drivers in traffic has also increased. According to data provided by TomTom, in 2017, on average 144 hours per year, per driver, were spent sitting in traffic – almost 20 minutes extra for a 30-minute trip during evening rush hours. In 2018, this increased to 147 hours, and in 2019, to 149 hours per year.
“While we have made huge strides in increasing walking and cycling in London throughout the pandemic, car use has remained consistently high,” Khan said.
“If we don’t redouble our efforts to deliver a greener, more sustainable future, we will replace one public health crisis with another – caused by dirty air and congested roads. The cost to Londoners and the capital cannot be understated, with days wasted stuck in traffic, billions lost to the economy and increased danger on the road and health impacts.
“Most of the traffic is caused simply by too much demand for limited road space, which means that the only long-term solution may be to drastically reduce car use in favor of greener modes of travel. “
Silviya Barrett, Policy Officer, Campaign for Better Transport, said: “Traffic jams are bad for our health, bad for business and bad for the planet, so it is crucial that we continue our efforts to reduce the use of car in the capital green recovery. Making more trips on public transport and active travel is key to tackling traffic congestion and cleaning up London’s air, while helping to reduce carbon emissions.
At the end of October, London’s Very Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) was significantly enlarged in an attempt to tackle air pollution from older vehicles.
Fines on drivers for breaking rules on London’s busiest roads are also set to rise by almost a quarter next week, with TfL increasing penalty notices on red roads from £ 130 to £ 160 from Monday, January 17. Almost two-thirds (65 percent) of respondents to a TfL consultation were against the increase.
London’s Red Roads are roads managed by TfL and have special rules determining when and where vehicles can stop and park in order to keep traffic flowing. Red roads represent 5% of the capital’s roads but carry 30% of its traffic.
Between 2016 and 2019, there was a 26% increase in the number of PCNs issued for traffic offenses in London. The fines were imposed for offenses such as illegally parking in loading docks, blocking yellow box junctions or making prohibited turns. They are also given to motorists caught stopping on red roads or driving in bus lanes during opening hours.
All NCP revenues are “reinvested in the London transport network,” according to TfL.
The announcement came just weeks after TfL confirmed that a 30% congestion charge increase would be permanent.
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