By Fare City
In the run up to the 2021 London mayoral elections, Fare City and Pedal Me have interviewed three of the four main party candidates on the transport, urban and environmental issues which matter to Londoners. The interviews were conducted in the front of a cargo bike to highlight the need for candidates to consider the role that more sustainable modes of transport may play in the future of the city.
The interviews provided the candidates with the chance to share their vision for London, while enabling Londoners to better understand the candidates’ plans to address the specific challenges and opportunities facing the capital, if elected. The research analyses these interviews and makes recommendations to the next mayor, to promote a more accessible, equitable and sustainable city for all Londoners in the decade ahead.
You can read the project brief and full interview transcripts here.
Sian Berry arrives punctually at our meeting point on an overcast morning at London’s Southbank. She is the first of three London mayoral candidates to join us for our cargo bike interviews. We had initially interviewed the Green Party Co-Leader in March 2020, just before the first nationwide lockdown. Back then, despite the fine weather, this same spot was eerily deserted as the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic began to take hold across the UK.
Like last year, Berry takes a closer look at the cargo bike which will soon be transporting her the three miles to City Hall via Cycle Superhighway 3. City Hall is a building she is familiar with from her current role as a London Assembly Member, but one she soon hopes to work out of as the capital’s next mayor.
In subsequent weeks we will be joined by two more candidates, the Liberal Democrats’ Luisa Porritt, and the Conservatives’ Shaun Bailey. The latter is the candidate widely considered to be the biggest threat to the incumbent Labour Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. In our interviews, each candidate is keen to outline why their vision for London is the right one, and how they intend to provide assured leadership for Londoners as the capital begins to emerge from a year of debilitating restrictions.
London’s mayoralty is now twenty-one years old. However, many Londoners are still unsure as to the role and remit of the mayor and the true extent of their power. Despite this, the Mayor of London commands the largest personal mandate for any politician in the country, and as the chair of TfL is responsible for the city’s transport network.
The role of transport in shaping a global city fit for the unique circumstances of the 2020s extends beyond streets, space and infrastructural systems; it informs the development of neighbourhoods and communities, promotes better health, wellbeing, and environment, and, above all, has the potential to foster greater equity and a better quality of life for all Londoners. We analyse these interdependent themes, along with governance – namely the powers of the mayor – to explore what the future of London could look like.
“This is an opportunity to reset relationships between the mayor and the Government”
Powers of the mayor
While all three candidates are confident about the changes they would implement if elected mayor, the process of turning their pledges into policy is less assured. Though the Mayor of London does have a certain set of powers at their disposal, the office is generally considered to wield less authority than those of other global cities, such as Bogota in Colombia.
As the chair of TfL, some of the key areas the mayor is responsible for include public transport, the city’s strategic road network, and the transport budget. However, unlike most other global cities, TfL does not receive a direct government grant to cover ongoing costs. Pre-pandemic the authority was dependent on fares for 80 per cent of its revenue generation, a significant source of income that was hit hard owing to lower ridership because of COVID-19.
Additionally, the overlapping patchwork of the city’s governance necessitates that the mayor must navigate a course through both the lower and higher tiers of policymakers who have a say in how the city is run. The former includes London boroughs and the London Assembly, while the latter comprises MP constituencies and central government.
Both Shaun Bailey and Sian Berry are serving London Assembly Members. The assembly comprises an elected twenty-five-person council with limited powers to scrutinise the mayors’ actions. Experience of working on committees and questioning the mayor periodically, arguably provides both candidates with an advantage over others in understanding what the powers of the mayor’s office encompass.
Bailey’s pledge to “hold consultations” to scrap unwanted Low Traffic Neighbourhoods would likely be within his powers if elected mayor. However, any claims that the mayor’s office could directly remove LTNs is unfounded as the schemes are located on borough-controlled roads. Similarly, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea were able to autonomously remove the Kensington High Street cycle lane in the west of the city, as it was located on a borough-controlled road.
When questioned on whether the mayor should have the authority to overrule the local council on this issue, Berry confirmed that the mayor does have the powers to apply to the Secretary of State for Transport to bring the road onto TfL’s strategic network. This is something that the incumbent mayor, Sadiq Khan, has previously suggested he would do.
Luisa Porritt has pledged that she would ‘demand special powers’ from central government to enable her to deliver her ‘Homes in the Heart of the City’ programme if elected. She reasons that this would “require some negotiation with the government” but would be “an opportunity to reset relations”. Though there is no legal impediment to achieving this, Khan’s year-long delay in delivering the ‘London Plan’ – owing to changes imposed by the housing secretary – suggests that expediting the rollout of mayoral programmes may prove challenging.
The Conservative candidate, Bailey, would appear to hold a party advantage in this respect. If elected, he would create an ‘infrastructure bank’, something he sees as essential in not only delivering projects for Londoners, such as Hammersmith Bridge, but a programme that would “rebuild the trust between London and government”. By raising funds using mayoral levies and business rates, prior to then “leveraging it in the markets”, Bailey states that this would incentivise the government to “meet him halfway”. However, it does appear that some of his transport policies are at odds with those of central government. These are policies that would have to be reconciled one way or the other if elected.
Equity and Quality of Life
Creating a fairer London
All candidates acknowledged that the mayor has both the ability, and the responsibility, to offer a strategic vision for improving the quality of life for all Londoners. The role of transport is fundamental in facilitating this, as it enables physical, economic, and social mobility. Transport has, however, traditionally been biased in favour of men over the needs of others. This raises questions about what candidates would do to promote a more inclusive, and safer, transport network that caters for groups that are currently marginalised.
Luisa Porritt believes that the issue runs deeper than infrastructural improvements. She cites the need for a “culture change to root out misogyny”, but does consider that providing incentives that encourage people to alter their behaviour is critical in leading to longer-term lifestyle changes. Her ‘Cycle Sundays’ pledge would provide people with the opportunity to hire the city’s Santander cycles free of charge every Sunday, an initiative which she hopes will lead to more Londoners buying a cycle.
Sian Berry asserts that more could be done to implement practical measures on London’s public transport network, including providing additional space on buses for both buggy and wheelchair users. Berry additionally praised the continued implementation of segregated cycle lanes, which enable “children to cycle… older people… people who are disabled to use specially adapted bikes”. By contrast, Shaun Bailey considers that “one of the failings of the segregated cycle scheme is that it doesn’t introduce new cyclists”. He believes that ‘Quietways’ are the way that “most young people… women and people from ethnic minorities, such as me, would learn to cycle”.
While many younger Londoners, are benefitting from new mobility options such as e-scooters, the vast majority are still reliant on more traditional modes. One of the stipulations of a future TfL bailout by central government is that concessionary public transport, for both under-18’s and over 60’s, may have to be cut. All candidates recognised the importance of concessionary fares and have pledged to protect them, but differ in their approach for funding this.
Sian Berry states that she would lobby the government to reinstate TfL’s operating grant. She says that she would make this a top priority, and though she acknowledges it is “quite a bit of money” she does not consider it to be “out of the bounds of affordability”. By contrast, both Luisa Porritt and Shaun Bailey would raise revenue via a road user charging scheme and commercial sponsorship of the tube, respectively. Porritt believes that her scheme would not only meet the “existing costs that TfL has, but potentially raise additional revenue”.
Bailey is keen to enlist big business to invest in the capital’s tube network. He is confident that his scheme, similar to one in Dubai, would generate “a conservative target of £500 million”. He states that any surplus could be “put to other good things” including initiatives for better disabled access and improving workplace conditions for disabled staff.
The relationship between big business and the provision of better workplace conditions, specifically for gig economy workers utilising city transport networks, is a pertinent issue. Its impact is widely felt, as it not only affects the quality of life for workers, but it also financially disadvantages firms that hire staff as employees – because of tax payments which gig economy competitors can avoid. In February 2021, London’s UBER drivers won a Supreme Court case for better employment rights against the ride-hailing provider, something all three candidates supported.
While all three candidates recognise that the mayor has the power to license private hire vehicles in London, they cannot refuse a licence if the applicant meets the regulations set by central government. Porritt reasons that “this goes beyond the powers of the mayor”, whereas Bailey considers it a long-term issue which requires the mayor to “take the government on”. Berry, too, states that the mayor “can campaign for things to be done at a national level”. If little else, the need to work constructively with government to ensure a better quality of life for all Londoners is something all three candidates are in agreement with.
“We have to stop charging people in outer London more for their travel just because of where they live”
“If you’re a young person get a pedal bike because cycling is the way forward, great fun, great speed”
Fare City Recommendations
Actions for London’s next mayor
London’s next mayor must guide the capital through its post-pandemic recovery to ensure that the city both retains and builds upon, hard won transport, urban and environmental gains. These gains include the reallocation of city space for users using non-motorised modes, the renewal of localism and an increased awareness of the need to find equitable solutions to address pressing economic and environmental issues. London’s next mayor will be restricted to a three-year term, meaning that they will need to move quickly yet skilfully, if they are to leverage the powers of the office to simultaneously accelerate the rollout of existing initiatives – while successfully implementing new ones.
The pace of change necessitated by the pandemic means that the upcoming mayoral term, though short, will be critical in securing the city’s trajectory in the decade ahead. The need for London’s next mayor to serve as a proactive and responsible custodian for the future of the city has never been more acute; clean air, climate resilience, more prosperous communities and a safer, more equitable, transport network are prerequisites for a successful London moving forward. Our recommendations state how the capital’s next mayor can build upon these gains to secure the best possible future for all Londoners in the months and years ahead.
Implement a road user charging scheme:
London’s next mayor should introduce a comprehensive road user charging system as a priority. While the ULEZ expansion represents the best short-term measure for reducing the damaging impacts of motor vehicle traffic, only a smart scheme which charges users based on multiple metrics represents a viable longer-term measure. A range of interdependent issues – from improving air quality and encouraging sustainable mobility options, to aiding TfL’s finances – would benefit from such a scheme. The mayor must introduce road user charging in earnest, especially given that central government is looking into the feasibility of a nationwide scheme. This could ensure that revenue from any levies accrued in the capital directly benefit Londoners.
Develop a city-wide vision for London’s neighbourhoods:
London’s next mayor should focus on creating a targeted package of measures which respond to the evolving needs of different types of city neighbourhood, be they in central, inner or outer London. This should simultaneously build upon – and bring together – the progress made by existing programmes including ‘Future Neighbourhoods 2030’, ‘High Streets for All’, ‘Streetspace’ and the ‘Green New Deal’. These measures must consider both the current needs and future aspirations of communities in these neighbourhoods, to ensure that the correct balance between revival and reimagination is struck. Doing so will work to secure each neighbourhood’s own unique version of what it means to be a people and place focused entity, which functions successfully within the urban context of the city as a whole.
Establish an inclusive transport working group:
London’s next mayor should establish an inclusive transport working group. Such a group would bring together emerging organisations championing the rights of marginalised Londoners across the capital’s transport, urban and environmental sectors. Though TfL and the GLA currently run initiatives such as ‘Action on Equality’ and the ‘Mayors Equality, Diversity and Inclusion strategy’ respectively, the pandemic has prompted a groundswell of new and diverse organisations. These organisations convey the lived experience of many Londoners through the lens of gender, ethnicity, class and disability and should be supported via a mayoral-led working group. The group should work to collate and coordinate accumulated knowledge on these issues for the consideration of both the mayor and London’s boroughs, while being further disseminated via a city-wide media campaign.
Fare City would like to thank candidates and their teams for agreeing to take part in this study. Full videos of the interviews can be found here. We would additionally like to thank Chris, Ben and the Pedal Me team for their contribution, along with videographer, Philip Schnell.
Article designed by David Maguire