A Point of Comparison: Mobility in London

By GYORGYI GALIK AND Anastasia Vikhornova


London is a city of cities. Its 32 boroughs, distinct and full of character, make a world city of huge diversity around the central City of London. London is connected to the rest of the globe by no fewer than five airports and directly to continental Europe by the Channel tunnel. The city is more than a national capital—it is also centre of international connection and global mobility with a massive influence on economics, trade and a globalising society.

Like many global cities, London has been experiencing rapid growth over the last decades. Currently the population of London is around 8.6 million. It is projected that by the 2030s London’s population will peak at 10 million, which might increase the current 26 million daily trips by an additional 5 million trips each day (Road Task Report, TfL, 2015).

International experience points to a more effective strategy of shifting travel habits from cars to public transport by introducing high service frequencies, central coordination of timetables, traffic priority for trams and buses and a conspicuous staff presence (Public Transport Users Association, 2013).

London has an extensive and developed transport network which includes both private and public services. Too many people in London still choose to use cars for short journeys when more sustainable modes—public transport, cycling and walking— would be practical. In order to achieve a continuing and greater shift towards more sustainable modes, the Mayor of London and Greater London Authority understand the importance of providing Londoners with the necessary infrastructure, information and support to choose alternatives to the car.

Recently there has been a substantial net shift away from private transport towards public transport in London. London’s public transport system includes a wide variety of modes: underground, overground trains, busses and even river bus, as well as a cable car link that takes passengers across the river. The public transport infrastructure builds on a common electronic ticketing system, Oyster card, that allows passengers to easily shift between different types of transportation. London underground by far is the most popular mode of public transport, with its network connecting 270 different stations with an annual passengers flow of 1.305 billion (TfL, 2015).

More than 90% of Londoners live within 400 metres of a bus stop. London’s bus network is extensive and highly technological, e.g. cashless payment, speed-limiting technology and e-paper bus stops are being tested to provide travel information (TfL, 2015). There are number of routes that operate even at night, and most of the bus stops have a live arrival-information display to ease the experience of the user’s journey. London’s bus brigade is also environmentally sound and will soon have the biggest fleet of hybrid busses (combination of diesel and electric motor) in Europe.

As part of the London Infrastructure Plan 2050, the ‘Crossrail’ project has begun to accommodate the future growth of the city and to ease road congestion. It is a high-capacity railway system that will connect the outside of London to the very centre of the city. Crossrail is due for completion in 2018 and will have a high impact on mobility flows within central London. Some estimates show that Crossrail users may bring an extra 65 million journeys to some of the key underground stations.

Transport for London (TfL), the government body responsible for the transport system in Greater London, introduced a ‘Road Modernisation Plan’ that aims to improve the travelling conditions by making roads more accessible, enjoyable, safe and healthy for all kinds of users. The Plan includes 17 major schemes, including the expansion of the Cycle Superhighways and the construction of better public realms for pedestrians to encourage walking (Road Task Report, TfL, 2015).

During the continued development of a city, there are moments of change where people accept that something different is happening. The 2012 London Olympics, for example, encouraged people and authorities to think differently about how to manage transport.

As a separate project, TfL is experimenting with occasional road closures on weekends to demonstrate how these temporary interventions can have a beneficial impact including improved safety and air quality, decreased noise pollution and increased physical activity. The idea of a ‘car free day’ is based on the success of many other cities around the world (including Mexico City) where officials have incorporated car-free days to promote improvement of mass transit, biking and walking. Instead of pressuring the individual to develop healthy habits, the intervention creates an environment where exercise is not only possible, but pleasant, ultimately motivating some individuals to choose to be physically active (Centre for Health Advancement, 2016).

Great strides have also been taken in London to improve air quality. The Mayor, through the Greater London Authority (GLA), has already committed to taking action to reduce air pollution from London’s transport system. These actions include the development of electric vehicle infrastructure, congestion charging and the London Low Emission Zone (LEZ), smarter travel initiatives to encourage a shift to greener modes of transport, funding and supporting car clubs (especially hybrid and electric cars) and smoothing traffic and bus emissions. Older buses have been fitted with particulate traps and diesel-electric hybrid buses are being introduced as quickly as possible (The Mayor’s Air Quality Strategy, 2010).

Current research indicates that the focus on stability and commuting habit “masks some important issues of variability, flexibility and change” in people’s behaviours. If the experiences of individuals actually incorporates greater flexibility than we currently design for, the opportunities to drive a little less will be missed (Flexi-Mobility, 2014).

Future Cities Catapult is broadening its focus to a wider range of mobility-related issues including working practices, urban logistics, schooling and leisure. In order to develop a coherent strategy, Future Cities Catapult is looking into transport policies that enable multi-modality allowing Londoners to shift towards more sustainable and active modes of mobility.




Clearing the air The Mayor’s Air Quality Strategy (2010), Greater London Authority, Available at: https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/Air_Quality_ Strategy_v3.pdf

Flexi-Mobility: Unlocking low carbon mobility opportunities (2014). The project is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences, Research Council grant EP/J00460X/1. The project is a collaboration between the Universities of Leeds, Lancaster, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Brighton, the Open University, and the University of the West of England., Available at: http://www.fleximobility.solutions/ wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Green-Paper-fleximobility-draft-public-November.pdf

Myth: Making Public Transport Free will encourage use (2013), Public Transport Users Association, Available at: http://www.ptua.org.au/myths/free/

Roads Task Force 2015 Progress report: a successful first year, 2015, Transport for London, http://content.tfl.gov.uk/roads-task-force-update-reportapril-2015.pdf

Natural Capital Investing in a Green Infrastructure for a Future London, Greater London Authority, 2015 https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/gitask forcereport.hyperlink.pdf

Transport for London, Travel in London Key trends and developments Report number 8, 2015 http://content.tfl.gov.uk/travel-in-london-report-8.pdf

The benefits of car free days (2016), in Context of Population Health, Intersectoral Success, Posted on January 4, 2016, Centre for Health Advancement, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, Available at: http://uclacha.org/2016/01/04/ the-benefits-of-car-free-days/

Transport for London website: http://tfl.gov.uk, https://tfl.gov.uk/corporate/abouttfl/what-we-do/buses