Freedom of Information: TfL gets nasty

Last week, I used the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act to reveal that Boris Johnson had misinformed the London Assembly about the advice he had received from traffic planners.

The information was somewhat embarrassing, not just for Boris but also for senior Transport for London figures named in internal documents, such as Ben Plowden and Daniel Moylan.

I have now received an email informing me that TfL will not be providing me with any of the information on the various outstanding requests that I currently have.

This is surprising, as I have successfully received regular FOI responses from TfL since I started this blog.

Are they allowed to do this?

TfL’s legal team are now claiming that they are not obliged to provide me with any information if costs more than £450 in total to respond to the requests that I have submitted.

This is not actually what the legislation says. Costs of individual requests may only be aggregated if,

the two or more requests relate, to any extent, to the same or similar information.

What requests are they refusing?

The claim that my outstanding requests relate to the same or similar information seems far-fetched. I am currently waiting to hear back about a number of different things, including:

  • Transport for London’s usage of “grey fleet” and “support fleet” cars in London’s streets.
  • Pedestrian Countdown Equality Impact Assessments
  • A ‘Pedal Confusion Study’ commissioned by London Buses
  • Information on a project entitled ‘21st century traffic signals’
  • Details of the disbanding of TfL’s Cycling Centre of Excellence
  • The Vauxhall, Nine Elms & Battersea Planning Framework

These are “similar”, I suppose, to the extent that they all refer to TfL’s operations. But essentially any FOI requests made to TfL, or any public body, will have to refer to the activities that they carry out – this can’t be the test of whether information requested is similar.

I have emailed TfL asking them how they have arrived at the conclusion that the above requests constitute “the same or similar” information and will publish their response.

Why now?

Since starting this blog, I have put in a lot of FOI requests to TfL, allowing me to post in detail a range of topics such as freight regulations, the street design process and Pedestrian Countdown.

I don’t know why TfL have suddenly decided, a week after I exposed through FOI that claims made by Boris Johnson were not accurate, that they are not going to respond to my outstanding requests.

Accountability

At the end of the day, the reasons do not really matter. This is about democratic accountability. As the Information Commissioner’s Office informs us, the public have the right to request any information held by public authorities.

That Transport for London is refusing to reveal information about the above topics, on frankly the most spurious of pretexts, leaves me wondering just one thing:

What is Transport for London trying to hide?

Click here to read the full text of TfL’s email to me.
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8 Responses to “Freedom of Information: TfL gets nasty”

  1. peoplesfrontofrichmond Says:

    I’ve been using whatdotheyknow as a good way to keep track of FOI requests. Have you been down the internal appeal route? If not, it sounds like you should go to the information commissioner and ask them to kick some butt.

  2. autumnal_crash Says:

    Although this is harsh, I can pretty much imagine the conversation that took place in the pub.
    “Hey, you ever get emails from a Cycle of Futility?”
    “Yeah! He keeps putting in requests all the time for information that takes me ages to find, only to use it to slate everything we do on his ‘holier than thou’ blog. I mean when has he ever said anything positive?”
    “You’re right, let’s serve his ass with a Section 12. What’s he going to do? Have a little protest on Blackfriars Bridge all by himself? Express his anger in 140 characters? Good luck with that mate. Right, I need to go, do you want a lift?”
    “No, cheers man, but I drove in today as well.”
    “Your loss. I’m guessing your car isn’t a pimped out 4×4”
    “No! God! Feeling totally jealous right now.”

  3. hazzer2001 Says:

    You could always outsource your requests to your blog’s readers… Each reader could put in a request and then feed the information you need back to you…

  4. Futilitarian Says:

    Thanks hazzer2001 but sadly this is explicitly prohibited by the 2004 regulations:

    5.—(1) In circumstances in which this regulation applies, where two or more requests for information to which section 1(1) of the 2000 Act would, apart from the appropriate limit, to any extent apply, are made to a public authority—

    (a)by one person, or

    (b)by different persons who appear to the public authority to be acting in concert or in pursuance of a campaign.

    http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2004/3244/regulation/5/made

  5. PaulM Says:

    Not absolutely correct – there is no prohibition on people acting in concert to make FOI requests, just the authority can aggregate them to determine an overall cost exceeding the permitted limit.

    Even then, they would have to be able to see that they are in concert, and I assume that “appear” must have a resaonableness test to it (paranoid fantasies of consipracy not to consitute “appear”).

    And then there is the crucial use of the word “and” – the separate requests have to be made within 60 working days of each other.

    Could get rather slow, as 60 WDs is 12 weeks, but if all else fails…..

  6. Futilitarian Says:

    Sorry, Paul, what I meant was given that they’ve already said they can aggregate the costs of these requests, the fact that requests are being made by different people won’t help if TfL decide that those people appear to be acting in concert.

    Fortunately, the lovely people at http://www.cfoi.org.uk/ seem to think this stuff counts as environmental info, so I can put EIR requests instead which have no cost limit – they can only refuse requests which are “manifestly unreasonable”. So we’ll see where that goes.

  7. inwabyabags Says:

    There’s clearly a whole lot to know about this. I think you produced some great points in Characteristics also.Keep working , wonderful career!

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  8. Transport for London’s lack of transparency: just one example « Cycle of Futility Says:

    [...] an email from TfL informing me that this Freedom of Information request (amongst others) is being refused as they consider that I have put in too many similar requests in a 60 day [...]

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