'TfL faces the twin dangers of Boris Johnson and Covid-19'
Elly Baker AM and Anne Clarke AM
- Credit: PA
Ahead of last May’s mayoral and London Assembly election, the Conservatives put out fake news leaflets about the financial state of Transport for London (TfL). They used near TfL colours and fonts to make it look official.
The leaflets claimed that the mayor, Sadiq Khan had mismanaged TfL funding. What they didn’t say is that the real reason TfL currently faces such an uncertain future is the twin dangers of Boris Johnson and Covid.
During his time as mayor, Boris Johnson gave up TfL’s £700M annual operating grant from the Treasury. This made London the only major city in Europe so heavily dependent on fares income and uniquely at risk to what came next.
When the Covid-19 outbreak hit, passenger numbers on the tube plummeted by 97% and on the buses by 86%. These numbers have struggled to fully recover since and have hit TfL’s fares revenue hard. With recent work from home advice, the numbers have dropped again, having never fully recovered to pre-pandemic levels.
Since the government first issued its "stay at home" guidance in March 2020, three short-term emergency funding deals have been agreed between the Department for Transport and TfL.
Between April 1, 2020 and the most recent due to expire on February 4 next year, the government have offered TfL emergency grants and allowed the transport operator to borrow an extra £600 million to keep London moving.
However, each emergency deal has come with strings attached such as above-inflation fare rises, restrictions on concessions, and requirements to raise extra revenue at the most difficult of times. Government seem determined to make the mayor carry the political can for circumstances outside his control.
As a comparison, private train operators have faced similar problems with passenger numbers and therefore revenue, but the Government has handed them £10.4 billion in financial support, with no strings attached, since the start of the pandemic. London is not being treated fairly.
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TfL have just received a further sticking-plaster funding extension, due to end in February. The government announcement of the extension came just one day before the money was due to run out.
The situation is extremely serious and without help proper financial support to plug the gap, TfL faces financial disaster. If fair funding is not forthcoming we are looking at major cuts to bus and tube services – potentially one in five bus routes are at risk, and even a whole tube line could be closed in the worst case scenario.
London is united in the call from business leaders to trade unions - government must give TfL a fair and a long-term funding deal.
The knock-on effect of a managed decline of TfL would be an unmanaged decline of our city. Levelling-up the north shouldn’t mean levelling-down London, and without a serious deal the government will send a real blow to our city.
The government talk about levelling up, but really all they are doing is levelling down London with an enforced managed decline. The war on Londoners must stop now.
Elly Baker (Lab) is a London-wide assembly member and the lead on transport. Anne Clarke (Lab) is London Assembly member for Barnet and Camden.