TfL wastes £5m of central government cash trying to launder London’s air

Note: This post is a little policy-ish and maybe not for everyone. However, it reveals TfL’s extravagant and astonishing attempts to cover up their failings on air emissions. The main points are as follows:

  1. The UK is failing to meet the EU’s air quality standards in London.
  2. In March 2011, the Department for Transport gave the GLA £5m to deal with the problem of emissions in London. The project is being delivered by TfL.
  3. TfL have devoted this money entirely to tricking the EU emissions counter on Marylebone Road, and to “power cleaning” the dirty air by repeated visits which cost up to £5k each.

Read on for more detail…

Garrett Emerson, the Chief Operating Officer of TfL’s London Streets department, is due to submit a report to the Surface Transport Panel on Wednesday this week. The report is entitled,


Its main purpose is setting out to the Panel how the Mayor is adapting said strategy now that the daily concentration of particulate emissions has consistently been above the limit set out in the EU Air Quality Directive.

Less road traffic emissions

Oh, really?

The report notes that, in March 2011*, the European Commission exempted Greater London from EU air quality standards until June 2011. This was on the condition that “the UK adapts its air quality plan for the area, setting out the steps to achieve compliance by 11 June and detailing relevant abatement actions.”

After this was granted, the GLA had the audacity to write to the Department for Transport (DfT) asking for funding so they might actually have a chance of meeting the targets. Obviously all the money originally in the budget had been allocated to projects more important than air quality targets, like anti-walking and cycling “improvement” works and schemes designed to maximise the number of cars on London’s streets (pdf).

Astonishingly, DfT acquiesced to the tune of £5million. (Or perhaps it’s far from astonishing that the current government does not want the Conservative mayor to face headlines about being fined for air quality a year before the next mayoral elections – it’s certainly not the place of this blog to hypothesise.)

Photo the property of JJWillow

So, what are TfL actually doing to achieve this aim? Essentially, the entirety of the £5m is being wasted on two things:

  1. Repeated, “cleaning” visits of air at “priority locations” which cost up to £5k a piece,
  2. Trying to reduce the emissions of taxis and buses specifically around the Marylebone Road air quality measuring station.

In detail: Tfl have agreed with DfT 6 priorities (point 3.5 of the report), which can be split into two categories:

  1. Prevention of emissions on Marylebone Road – more on these in a second
  2. Attempting to clean the dirty air – this is a range of measures from “power cleaning” tunnels (£3-£5k per tunnel) and flyovers (£1250 per visit), applying dust suppressants, and installing green infrastructure (don’t get excited) which means “green walls” and “vegetated barriers” (i.e. total greenwash).

The preventative measures are the following:

  1. Reducing idling of taxis near the air quality measuring station (or as the report puts it, “at priority locations” which just happen to be along the Euston/Marylebone Road where the station sits).
  2. Applying Diesel Particulate Filters to 71 buses on route 205, which travel along the “priority location” of Marylebone Road.
  3. Working with businesses to reduce their air quality emissions at, you guessed it, “priority locations”.

It is scandalous that £5m of DfT money is being squandered in this manner,  especially while other transport budgets are being cut to the bone. With Cycling England gone, the total budget for all of London’s ‘Biking Boroughs’ is £4m.

TfL’s report even goes as far as to admit that:

Road transport is the dominant source of PM10 emissions within central London, contributing around 79 per cent in 2008, 80 per cent in 2011. (Emphasis mine.)

And yet after being given £5 million to potentially deal with this, TfL’s plan does absolutely nothing to reduce road traffic.

Their paltry, reactive measures guarantee that London will fail to meet future targets. And no doubt, when we do, we will either be bailed out by central government (costing us money) or fined (costing us money).

And meanwhile, London’s streets will continue to be the same dirty, noisy, traffic-infested rat-runs and racetracks which deter simple, sustainable transport like riding bikes and walking. Good work, TfL.

*TfL’s report says that this happened in March 2010 but this is an error.

One Response to “TfL wastes £5m of central government cash trying to launder London’s air”

  1. Lights out: more ways people are being designed out of London’s streets « Cycle of Futility Says:

    […] quality: Road traffic is responsible for 80% of London’s particulate emissions, which a report commissioned by the Mayor estimates causes the premature death of over 4,000 […]

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