By Paul Drechsler
If we are serious about getting London back to work and driving economic growth, we need to start to get public transport usage back towards normal levels.
This requires crystal clear communications from government that help the capital’s workers feel confident in using London’s tube, trams and buses. We can see from other countries around the globe that it is possible: data shows that in Oslo, Paris, Vienna and Brussels, ridership has bounced back, but in London we’ve seen a much slower return. Mixed messages and conflicting advice are not helping in the capital.
While we don’t need to fill the tube to the degree it was operating at before, we do need to support people to return – safely, gradually, and confidently – with clarity on when to use the network. And we need to make sure the office environment is ready for our workers when they get there.
Getting people back on public transport will also be critical to avoiding a car-based recovery. Many of us talk about the window of reform that was missed after the 2008 crash – particularly on grasping the climate change agenda. As we respond to this pandemic, we must not make the same mistake. We have heard this loud and clear from business leaders across the city, from those involved in our decarbonisation work to those advising on the recovery.
So where can we act to make the biggest difference? There is consensus that the next few years are the time to get ahead. If we want London to be at the heart of a green recovery, we have to think holistically, even if some of the problems we have to tackle seem intimidating. For example, it’s great to look at how we specify the rules for new buildings to make sure they’re green, but to really tackle carbon emissions and energy efficiency in London we need to address how existing housing and commercial premises stock operate. Without retrofitting existing buildings, tough requirements on new development just won’t make the difference we want to see – or at least won’t make it for decades.
Digital infrastructure is critical too. We have seen again and again how important this has been during the pandemic. As we move to a more hybrid world, digital connectivity has the potential to underpin a green and low carbon economy, enabling people to take advantage of all the tools that exist to help them monitor their own energy use, and to seamlessly move between home and office.
We cannot and must not forget that we are in a competition to be a world city and liveability is one of our huge draws. There are local issues, such as air quality, that need to be tackled. We need a bold plan for longer-term investment that includes Crossrail 2, so that the network is ready for future demand. And the government must reach a sustainable funding agreement with Transport for London, so that the tube network is world-leading, not struggling to stay afloat. This, alongside measures to deter car use, will be critical if we are to hold our place as one of the best places in the world to work and live.
London needs to act now to remain a leading global capital city, which requires a sustainable lens being applied to how we recover. We need to start by getting back on public transport, but we must not forget to harness the opportunity to genuinely build back bolder, better and greener.
Paul Drechsler is chair of London First. You can follow them on Twitter here.
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