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London bans cars for a day in the fight against air pollution (thetimes.co.uk)
99 points by known 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 79 comments

The Great Smog of London in 1952 was a 4 day smog that potentially killed 12,000 people. [1]

Today things are much better but living in pretty much any city around the world means that you will exposed to higher pollution.

Reading the stats like below [2], it's always shocking to me that all politicians who live in cities aren't demanding change.

" Worldwide ambient air pollution accounts for:

    29% of all deaths and disease from lung cancer
    17% of all deaths and disease from acute lower respiratory infection
    24% of all deaths from stroke
    25% of all deaths and disease from ischaemic heart disease
    43% of all deaths and disease from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease"

It's good that developments like electric cars, trains etc, mean that power generation can be centralized. Since even a fuel burning plant is more efficient than a car's engine.

And there's the ability to use things like wind, tidal, nuclear, geothermal generation.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Smog_of_London [2] https://www.who.int/airpollution/ambient/health-impacts/en/

I agree with trying to reduce the number of cars in a city is a great goal for congestion, safety and pollution.


Has anyone seen what it costs to get around on the tube? Or the ASTRONOMICAL costs of train tickets if you live just outside the capital?

It costs me £8 to park my electric car in London and perhaps 40-60 minutes to drive there. A train takes 30 minutes but costs almost £30 for a return ticket. How is that reasonable? That ticket for ‘public’ transport is a huge chunk of ones salary; and that’s not even adding the cost of the tube into the equation.

> Has anyone seen what it costs to get around on the tube?

I recently visited London for the first time in 10 years. Obviously it’s not the same as a visitor as it is as a resident, but the public transport and the tube in particular, was fantastic. It was easy, I could use PayWay, it adjusted my fees to a daily maximum and got me everywhere quickly (except for the outages on Sundays). It might be imperfect, but I’m envious.

Aren’t there far cheaper options for regular commuters? Here in Berlin, a single one-way ticket is €2.60, but a monthly is around €80. That’s less than a euro per ride for the average person that commutes by subway and uses it for some other trip every second day.

Trains are, unfortunately, rather expensive, at least compared to flying and to taking a car you already own. I believe fuel and vehicle taxes should increase to the point where they pay for most if not all of road construction costs. Contrary to popular opinion, large parts of those costs are currently financed from general taxation.

Because tracks and stations make up the bulk of the cost of train rides, increases in ridership have low marginal costs. Any move to get people to use trains would therefore tend to lower per-trip costs.

IIRC only about half of transport is for the purposes of commuting.

I wouldn't own a car if I only used it for commuting; that's the easy case because generally most people have the same job for months at a time.

By contrast I can't simply move back to my home town without giving up work; I can't live near all of my friends that moved around the country; I can't simultaneously live everywhere I visit.

So the fact that a single or return train ticket costs hundreds of pounds makes it completely infeasible really. Most people in the UK consider it an exciting treat, not a normal mode of transport, particularly families (sod paying for 4 tickets, one is already more than the car).

Having lived in Berlin and now living in London I asked the same.

The monthly ticket that is very common in Germany either doesn't exist here or is ridiculously expensive. Even if you go by tube on a daily basis you are better off paying for each trip.

That's not true - season tickets are definitely cheaper than pay as you go if you travel every day.

e.g. Annual Travelcards give you 12 months travel for the price of ten and a half.


Annual tickets are barely worth it if you just take the tube, not buses, and don't use it at weekends. Single fare prices were frozen by the mayor, but travelcards were not.

I commute Canning Town to Bank. Daily its £5.30. Weekly cap is £35.10 / Monthly £134.80 so you won't hit them on just commute.

In reality I have a railcard so its actually £4.50pd / even less likely to hit caps.

I commute into London from about 60 miles away. It costs me either ~450£pcm or ~4600£pa, depending on if I get the monthly or yearly season ticket, and the journey is 30 minutes (if I make it onto my regular train). My employer essentially loans me the money to by the annual season ticket, and it's deducted from my wages monthly (this is a pretty common system in London).

A standard peak time return for my train into London is about 22£, according to the National Rail season ticket calculator the average journey price on the annual ticket is only 9£, so a pretty reasonable saving if you're going every day.

This is without the tube ticket (which is an add-on option on regional trains going into London), so I spend about 75-100£pcm on that as well, with contactless payments.

There are weekly, monthly, annual season tickets but the discount is small.

I think for most people commuting into London daily the saving of an annual ticket would be the equivalent of one month, so 8% off. And that of course requires paying upfront... Which means several thousands of Pounds for many people. ~£500 a month for train commute into London + tube is not uncommon.

I agree.

I've always owned a car despite having lived in Z2 etc in London.

It is completely impractical to use trains for general transport unless you plan everything months in advance or you're not paying for it. The tube and NR within the Oyster zone are an exception - those are relatively cheap and work well.

Anywhere outside of the M25 is like going back to the dark ages.

Today is Friday. Let's say I decide to visit family because I'm free, a friend cancelled plans, whatever. This is not a cherry picked example; I'm typing this before I even look.

OK, I've just checked. An advance single to my hometown is between 80 and 100 GBP depending on time. That's not including travel on either side, just mainline to mainline. There are no changes required.

Most cars will do that journey for 20 GBP, in far more comfort, at any time I would like to leave (maximum traffic variation would be approx 1 hour in a 4 hour journey).

I've bought an electric vehicle because air pollution is a real problem.

But getting rid of cars? Intercity rail needs to be fixed first, and I mean really fixed - the prices need to come down by _at least_ a factor of 2.

I haven't even mentioned the fact that if you want to live within walking distance of a station that can commute into London, you've missed the window on ever owning a home that's not an absolute shoebox; so for most that actually want a real family home, a car is still the only option because living close to the tube needs inherited wealth, a 1% job, or doing it 20 years ago.

I live in zone 3/4 and getting around on the tube is not bad at all. There is a daily cost cap of around £8 depending on how far you go, but I usually don't hit it or get that close.

But regional trains I agree can be super expensive. So for those living outside the greater London area, that could indeed be rough.

It's not just those living outside London.

I live in London and travel outside of it because I know people living all over the country, I take weekend holidays to nature, etc.

Via rail if I did the same journeys I do in the car it could easily cost me 500-1000GBP a month. Non-advance tickets are basically priced at the "no, we don't want you to make that journey" level.

The cost of trains in the UK is ridiculous. My employer once paid £320 for a return ticket from Manchester to London.

I pay that fortnightly. Although I can usually get it for £220 with advance notice.

Mmm.. I just got a return ticket London Glasgow for something like 90£. How is it so much more expensive for Manchester (considering that my train went through Manchester and is much closer than Glasgow)?

Well, there are two reasons, I believe. One is the fact that the longer in advance you buy it, the cheaper it is and the second is that peak vs. off-peak times matter a lot.

If you buy one month in advance and at non-peak times (e.g. 12:00 on a Wednesday or similar), it will be around £30-40 probably.

I've done Edinburgh to London a few times, and it's been >£200 each time

You must be booking first class? Or at peak times?

It’s £150ish open return from Dundee to London via Edinburgh IIRC for standard class off peak.

Pretty much same price as Dundee to Edinburgh train > plane to stanstead > train into liverpool street.

Also takes about the same time..

Probably times - not booking first class. I'm travelling again in a few months, but flying, and my flights from Edi to London city are £70 return. My total journey time door to door will be 3:30 (as I happen to be heading to the right part of London for City airport to make sense) and my bus to/from the airport in Edinburgh will cost me £7.50.

I've just checked trainline and for the same dates, a train is 4hours 20, will cost £145 for "super off peak single" - and if I'm not careful booking it I'll be standing for that trip. In my case this time I'll also need to get another train from Liverpool St to east london, which is 2 more trains and an extra 30 minutes each way.

I'd much rather take the train, but the costs are often stacked against trains in favour of flying.

AU$400 per fortnight for train tickets! Astonishing.

No one one in fifty Briton's live in Australia.

Yep. Going to Cardiff from London is the absolute worst. I've had friends say they have paid (well, clients) ~£500 for first class returns. £121 for a standard anytime single. Almost guaranteed you won't get a seat for the first hour of the journey.

You can say "book it sooner" but it really doesn't make that much (if any) difference, booking the same ticket type (any time single) a month in advance is the same price. Imagine that, 2 hours and 15 minutes on a train for £121 (~150 USD) 50% of the time you will be standing because there aren't enough seats. Sorry to rant but the trains, and lack of cheaper reliable alternatives really gets me about this country.

Isn’t there an unlimited ticket for commuters?

Obviously I don't want you exact location and destination, but intrigued where you are travelling from and to at that price of train, and also at that swift time to get in (at rush hour?) and that you can consistently find parking 'in' London and at that cost (for how long?). I've never parked an electric car in central, but finding standard parking used to be hard. I generally go to Stratford now and park thee and get the train in (if I need to - I'd rather just get the train straight to Stratford or Liverpool Street Station)

I had a quick random check; for peak tickets, it's close to £30 from Reading and Guildford, and mid-£20s from St Albans and Stevenage.


Anyway, comparing train prices to an electric car probably isn't the model that the pricing is based on.

Many years ago, I actually complained to my MP that it was cheaper for one person to drive a not-cheap car (<30mpg) than take a pre-booked off-peak train. The response (from a researcher at the DoT) disagreed, and showed that after incorporating amortised insurance, road tax, depreciation, and maintenance cost, it was comparable. But of course this was for a single traveller; for two or more travellers in the same car, there was no additional cost.

Anyway, it's not surprising that partial costs of an electric car are far lower than taking the train.

Run for office on a platform to make train fares cheaper and you will probably win. The only other thing to factor in is car payment, insurance, tax/reg but you probably have a car anyway so that evens out in the end in my opinion. The only other factor would be less stress due to the fixed train commute vs car. But since trains are packed it sounds like prices are too low even though they are unreasonable... I guess an alternative would be flex time and work from home options so you don't have to commute in each day.

Isn't Corbyn planning to nationalise the rail service?

It's not just the high cost, but the absolutely baffling fare structures and restrictions on travel.

To go from London to Cheltenham in the afternoon you can pay anything from £21.50 to £50.10 depending on how far in advance you buy the ticket and what route you take (direct is cheaper than change at Bristol).

And then there's a mix of restrictions or no restrictions (and those aren't always tied to price, some expensive tickets will have restrictions).


Driving in central London is much more expensive than the tube given the congestion charge and the ultra low emission zone.

The congestion zone is quite small. It also only applies M-F 7am-6pm, and electric vehicles are completely exempt.

The ULEZ doesn't apply to most modern cars (a 15 year old petrol meets the bar); it primarily targets the cheat diesels.

Already demonstrated to dramatically drop pollution on e.g. Ride100 days when large sections of London are car free.

2017 Ride100, https://cyclingindustry.news/air-quality-sees-drastic-improv...

2018 Marathon, https://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/london-marathon-figur...

There's a self-build TV show in the UK called 'Grand Designs' that had a great episode[0] whereby their children were suffering badly with allergies (even being hospitalised at times). They stayed within London (albeit moving to a slightly better area for pollution) but built their house with filtered air systems and low VOC products in mind - and their children's symptoms improved dramatically.

It's concerning how big of a role air pollution seems to be playing, considering it doesn't seem to be a mainstream concern.

[0] - https://www.homesandproperty.co.uk/home-garden/interiors/des...

Wouldn't it be better for a) their children and b) the environment (extra materials being used in the house) if they just moved out of London?

We're back to "that's where all the well paying jobs are"; given that they spent £750k on the land before even building the house, they probably can't maintain that lifestyle with a non-London job, and commuting in from greater distance is pretty gruelling.

For their children, perhaps. For the environment, probably not. Moving to a suburb means more air pollution from the longer commute.

High-density urban living is far better for the environment than rural. People usually live in less space, and with far less outside surfaces, reducing energy usage for heating and cooling. Distance to work, shopping, and other destinations is shorter, and use of public transport is far higher. Far less land is wasted on manicured single-family lawns rarely used. Density also allows sharing of rarely used manufactured goods between a neighbors or via renting (power tools, washing machines, even cars).

It depends on if you can get a job outside of the capital right?

And I bet they still drove. Big SUVs if they are like most families.

I know it's super fashionable to hate on driving, but there's a reason why people drive - because they value their own time. I don't live in London but in a large city in the North, and when driving my commute is about 20 minutes, vs. at least an hour on public transport. Add kids to the mix and if you have to drop off your dearest at 8am but also be at work at/around 8am, then it might simply be impossible to do it on public transport in the right timeframe.

I'm trying to switch away from driving as much as I can nowadays, but there's a reason why people do it, especially with kids that have to be places. Ultimately, I don't think it's the issue with driving - it's the issue with cars being polluting. My next car is definitely going to be electric if possible.

London is different. Unless they work at an awkward position where they’d have to travel into central then out again to get to work, driving is usually never quicker.

And the schools they attend tend to be in a catchment area, meaning they’ll live near enough to probably not need a car and can walk at the very least.

There are buses that go down almost every road in London, with varying routes. I can only imagine it’s worth driving when in the outer boroughs, but for all intents and purposes I’m assuming we are imaging someone driving an SUV in a very congested area, where public transport is prolific. Unnecessary.

> Ultimately, I don't think it's the issue with driving

Its an issue with the structure of cities. If you let the free market decide the structure of cities with minimum regulation for over half a century, and with no concern for the environmental externalities, you get cities with sprawling suburbs and in which driving becomes a necessity.

If you make a decades long plan for the city, that makes the city go moderately vertical, doesn't give space for suburbs, but provides the other amenities of suburbs like green spaces and quiet, and consistently invest in public transit, you get cities with low environment impact and low commute times. You also avoid the problems of loneliness and social isolation that single people now face because they are forced to rent in suburbs, leading to a worse society for everyone.

What gets me is how entitled many drivers are.

I know a lot of people who drive instead of walking every single time, even when the destination is not more than 200 meters away.

Almost every day I see drivers parked on the side of the road, who, when they need to get to the other side of the road, get in their car and drive. Holy shit, the road is like 6 meters wide, and and crosswalk is never far away. How lazy can they be?

A lot of them find it too complicated to shut their engines when they're waiting for somebody, or when they go inside a store. They don't listen to music, they're not using AC (all windows are open), the weather is fine. This can only be explained by entitlement and laziness.

Well yes, I think can both agree that this kind of behaviour is gross and unacceptable.

At least in the UK, the highway code requires you to switch off your engine when you are stationary for a prolonged period of time. The fine is only £20 though, so I doubt it's really enforced.

Diesels are the worst. They should tax diesel higher. The market shifted to diesel b/c of lower diesel prices vs petrol. Diesel may give you a higher mpg but it comes at a big particulate and health cost.

I think he's hating on those ridiculous SUVs that people seem to do their school-runs in more than the driving itself.

But then that's silly. Would it be better if they were doing the school-runs in sedans? Hatchbacks? pickups? We can argue that a small hatchback would have marginally smaller emissions than a modern SUV, but then it's the wrong thing to focus on, we should be trying to get these people off the road, not pondering about SUVs.

Personally, I hate SUVs because they are really shitty cars. Heavy, high center of gravity, high consumption, ugly (IMO), not even much storage space.

I'm guessing you're not based in the UK - large SUVs are _not_ the norm here by any means. In parts of the country (wealthy boroughs/towns, or hilly farmland) sure, but most families are not driving SUVs.

I was thinking of running one of these in our garden - just to get an idea of how bad it is


I don't think it's that bad in your garden... I ran a foobot at home when we had our son. Air quality in the house was good a mile or two from central london and a few hundred meters from a big road. Looking at the pollution maps the pollution is extremely concentrated along big roads and even a short distance (10s of meters) away it's not so bad.

When we lived in the centre of Edinburgh (which probably isn't even that polluted compared to London) I was amazed at how dirty the white paintwork on windows would get in relatively short time periods.

Now we live out in a rural area and its very noticeable how cleaner windows and paintwork are - the same also applies to our lungs!

>>> I don't think it's that bad in your garden... I ran a foobot

You know a part of me did think you were about to say you had been monitoring the air in my garden, and given Facebook, Snowden, Russia, NSA and various Acts of Parliament I would not have been that surprised by one more person watching me :-)

Can someone attest to accuracy of PMS5003?

P.S - These are pretty cheap on AliExpress - http://bit.ly/2XoW0is

Alright, after having done some research on effective, long-term measurement of air quality, I am here to give you some bad news.

Your sensors are going to break. Depending on the environment and the mode of operation of the sensor, you'll see between a one month and one year lifespan.

Why? Exactly because of the thing you want to measure: dust, oil particulates, water vapour and chemical reactions will quickly deteriorate the accuracy of the sensors. To properly protect them you will need at least a moisture trap and some kind of air pump to get a constant flow of air through your sensor. You most likely also want to filter out large particulates (if you're interested in sub 2.5 micrometer measurements).

That said, you can [1] get quite accurate readings from the sensors within their specified operation environment (sub 80% Relative Humidity).

[1] https://www.mdpi.com/2073-4433/10/2/41/pdf-vor

It will be worth taking a snapshot of a Sunday via https://www.londonair.org.uk/LondonAir/nowcast.aspx and comparing to the no car day.

It's a shame a week day was not selected, but it would be a bigger shame to have this be a once a year promotional day rather than part of a learning exercise towards reduced pollution in London.

Another link of note would be https://cleanair.london/ which brings together many of the resources that document the current air quality and either proposes or tracks the policies that may address it.

It's always interesting/concerning when I blow my nose after a day in London: there is a lot of black residue in the snot.

apologies for the disgusting picture

This especially true if you take the tube, and heavily varies depending on the line.

Victoria line and Nothern lines are especially bad. If you stand at one hand of the platform, you can see some weird "mist" when looking at the opposite side. That's just a high concentration of PM2.5 and PM10, and that's what causes the black snot.

It's been shown the pollution level in the tube is 30 times worst than the worst street in london. [1]

I moved out of the centre of london and commute by train partly for that reason. Life's short, let's not make it shorter.

[1]: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/jan/09/london-under...

Yep, there are many parts of the tube where I literally have to hold my breath because the air is so bad.

The problem is cleaning. It doesn't happen. Compare how your former communist country tube stations look compared to what there is in London.

The whole lot has to be spotlessly clean for it to work, in London they clean the seats on the trains and do the maintenance work there, but the actual tunnels get cleaned once in a blue moon. The whole thing needs to be polished and polish-able. London Underground isn't built like that.

A fair amount of the dirt is from the streets above, so tyres that wear to also wear the road surfaces, that sort of cruft gets drawn all the way down into the Underground.

As for actual pollution levels then this depends on where you are on the network. TfL don't measure enough to give a heatmap of pollution, updated hourly. Your statistic from the Guardian sounds about right, generally speaking though the particulates are at 10x the EU max levels.

In a communist style country you could have an army of people polishing the tube stations and the tunnels as part of some National Service. But, in a Western Democracy where everyone has to pay a four figure sum for rent + travel no matter how they try and mix it, this isn't going to happen.

They have tried to create magic sweeper trains to hoover everything up but it hasn't been a success. Really that is what is needed as well as the trains being built to 'hoover as they go', using the air-con to filter out all the cruft.

No, the problem is ventilation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_Underground_cooling

In eastern europe we have very effective ventilation - for number of reasons, one of them is that it was built much later, the other is that some of the station were built to serve as a nuclear shelter so they had to have very safe ventilation systems...

A lot of the air quality problem isn't cars though - it's also things like construction equipment and just sheer number of people passing through, especially in enclosed spaces. The London underground has some of the worst pollution in the capital, particularly in terms of particulates and bacteria. Anecdotally you might notice eg after holding the handrails on some of the escalators that your hand comes back black. There's a famous statistic quoted that a 20 minute journey on the Northern Line is as bad for you as smoking a cigarette.

There's an interesting article on this effect here: https://www.railway-technology.com/features/featureis-the-ai...

Same thing here, except I live a few thousand kilometers away from London. When I am too lazy to wash the windows for a month or two, the next rag goes straight to the trash bin -- it's so black and soaked with soot you can't really clean it afterwards.

It would be nice to see the inside of the lungs of someone who spent a life here.

If you travel by tube, a lot of that is sloughed off dead skin.

Most of the tube dust is oxidised iron particles from the trains

Around the same time as Madrid stops its low emission zone: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/18/madrid-new-rig...

what even is the motivation for stopping something like that? article describes it as very successful. so sad.

Culture wars. It’s ridiculous what people start opposing once the other side starts liking it. See, for example, those rednecks manipulating their trucks in the US South to spew as much soot as possible.

Madrid elected a right-wing local government in the recent May elections. The parties involved promised this as part of their electoral campaigns. Car drivers who live on the outskirts and had to enter the central part of the city were furious about the banning of vehicles, even though it was for the greater good.

It's a crying shame because Madrid has good public transport. It needs more investment to keep up with increasing demand, and all the left-wing parties had that in their election manifestos. Now the local government will be "investing" in cars, which benefits the few and harms us all.

Was it actually popular?


I'm going to be honest, London's pollution can be felt (and seen) in one's airways. And it's a bit "different" than other polluted cities.

I don't know why is it so severe. Old cars? Trucks/Buses? Factories? High humidity?

Although it demonstrably reduces pollution levels, I don't see it go much further. Too many of us are obviously willing to pay any price for the ability to sit in our own tin can while producing smog and traffic jams. Even when not in use, cars are a massive waste of space that clogs our cities. Until we find something that's at the same time ridiculously much cheaper, less wasteful and less toxic, we will stay stuck, clogged, jammed and suffocating.

"Car Free Day on Sunday, 22 September 2019"


Couldn't find the date on the paywalled site.

Thanks, I was looking for it for ages

The amount of political posturing and grandstanding which goes in London is simply over the top. There are too many politicians seeking attention for dubious causes.

The fact is that pollution in the 70s and 80s was much worse and we are still living here. Traffic in London has greatly reduced over the years.

So where are these pollution concerns coming from? The amount eco posturing is just way over the top.

Pollution concerns are coming from an improved understanding how air pollution affects people. We also used to put asbestos in everything and eventually stopped doing that even though people weren't dropping like flies.

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