London traffic getting worse as car use rises: Concern grows over decade of congestion

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LONDON'S traffic is growing. Although recent surveys have showed an apparent easing of commuter numbers, the long-term trend published yesterday in the largest ever study of the capital's transport shows the car dominating travel patterns over the last decade.

The pounds 7m study, Travel in London, was carried out by the Department of Transport and London's boroughs through the London Research Centre. It shows that between 1981 (when the last major survey was carried out) and 1991, London has seen a 'continual growth in traffic'.

Car ownership is up 4 per cent, the numbers of cars entering London in the morning peak period has risen 24 per cent, and traffic congestion and overcrowding on public transport continues 'to be a major concern'.

Steven Norris, Minister for Transport in London, told a transport conference yesterday the new data emphasised the need for 'finding alternatives to the car'. He said that the Government faced a challenge to 'shift towards public transport' and emphasised public sector investment was being undertaken.

The new data will renew pressure on the Government to introduce some form of congestion charge or road pricing for London.

Tony Travers, director of the Greater London Group research centre at the London School of Economics, said: 'Thus far there has been no radical change in transport policy that would alter the social and cultural use of the car in London.'

London Transport's survey, published earlier this month, offered a glimmer of hope to commuters that the morning rush hour congestion had eased last year compared to figures for 1988.

However, the long-term trend for Greater London appears to be worse, indicating recent improvements may only be a cyclical blip caused by the recession. Between 1981 and 1991 the population of Greater London fell from 6.6 million to 6.3 million. Regardless, Londoners made 8 per cent more trips in 1991 than they did a decade earlier. The largest increase was in car trips by drivers, up 18 per cent. Passenger trips were up 7 per cent.

Through household, roadside, bus and train terminal interviews and traffic counts, a snapshot was taken of all modes of transport in London on a typical day in 1991.

Changes since 1981 included the completion of the M25 orbital motorway and the building of the Docklands Light Railway. Figures for the M25 show that about 700,000 vehicles use the road on a typical day.

The Department of Transport, concerned that four out of every five cars on the M25 are used by only the driver, is looking at a potential 'Los Angeles' solution to congestion involving a fast-track lane for cars carrying more than one person.

A total of 20 million trips are made in London each weekday. The car dominates those commuting, accounting for 43 per cent of all journeys. Rail, including the Underground, accounts for 28 per cent of all trips.

In the survey's typical 1991 day, more than 1 million vehicles entered London, with cars accounting for 85 per cent. For those deciding to leave the car, the Underground was the most popular option (up 20 per cent since 1981) and rail, up 8 per cent.

However, fewer bicycle and motorcycle trips were made. The transport lobby group, Transport 2000, said walking and cycling had become much more dangerous, increasing the pressure to use cars.