'The state of Transport for London’s finances – or lack of them'

Hampstead Underground station. Picture: Nick-D/Creative Commons

With the current TfL crisis there could be fare increases and cuts to tube services - Credit: Archant

I can’t remember a time when the news agenda has been so busy.

Party animal Johnson’s lies, sleaze and unsuitability for office, Covid and the pressures on the NHS, inflation and poverty, the environment, potential war in Ukraine and, perhaps the most important of all, the diabolical state of English cricket: the list seems endless.

But one story which has rather gone under the radar is the state of Transport for London’s finances – or lack of them.

Mayor Khan’s stewardship of TfL was never going to set the world on fire. Like a W7 heading up Muswell Hill, Sadiq is steady and reliable but no Ferrari. Responsible, environmental and wonderfully, reassuringly dull.

David Winskill is concerned about the impact the NHS accelerated discharge system will have on the vulnerable.

David Winskill says that 100 bus services are going to be cut - Credit: Archant

Then along came Covid and lockdowns: passenger figures dropped off a cliff. When we emerged blinking into the sunlight, many of us preferred the cordon sanitaire offered by working at home and travel in our cars rather than mixing with the hoi polloi on the buses and tubes. This might help explain the shocking pollution we saw during the recent spell of sunshine.

Also shocking are TfLs finances. With passenger journeys barely at 50% of pre-Covid levels (too early to tell what impact Johnson’s red-meated crie de travail will have) there is now a massive £1.2bn hole (and growing) in the budget. TfL itself generates almost three-quarters of its running costs with only a tiny government subsidy.

In a terrifying paper to the mayor before Christmas, the TfL director of hard sums warned that if government cash wasn’t forthcoming the impacts would be devastating. A survival package (euphemistically called “managed decline”) included massive cuts to tube services and the complete withdrawal of 100 bus services. Not reductions in frequency, but complete withdrawal.

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The potential impact on London, Londoners and the environment is obvious and puts in jeopardy the net £40bn contribution that London makes to the UK tax-take that subsidises other parts of the UK.

So far the government have been making threatening noises about fare rises and treating the crisis as a way of damaging a Labour controlled City Hall.

So, please Mr Shapps: "Please Plug the Gap!"

David Winskill is a Crouch End writer and campaigner.