Andy Byford: TfL needs the right funding deal from government – the stakes are high

Andy Byford: TfL needs the right funding deal from government – the stakes are high

At Transport for London we are committed to playing our part in London’s successful recovery from the pandemic, getting the city moving again, safely and sustainably. Just as the capital’s business community is helping our economy recover, preparing offices and retail spaces and re-building confidence in retail, leisure and tourism, we have been working to safely welcome people back onto public transport.

The network is operating at near normal service levels again, it’s cleaner than ever, new journey planning tools have been launched that make it easier to travel at quiet times, and we’re working with the police to enforce the wearing of face coverings – helping customers to feel safe. Passenger numbers continue to grow as more people return to their workplaces, helping London’s economy to rebuild.

But we can only continue to support London’s revival, which benefits the UK as a whole, if we have the financial security needed to do so. Our emergency funding agreement with government in May covered the first half of the financial year and is set to expire in a matter of days. As a matter of urgency, we need a sensible and appropriate funding agreement with Government that enables us to continue supporting the recovery.

Prior to the pandemic we had been on the road to a level of self-sufficiency almost unheard of among transport operators around the globe, having taken £1 billion out of our operating costs through rigorous efficiency. But over the years London’s transport network has been compelled to rely to a disproportionate amount on fares income. Over 70% of TfL’s income to operate the network comes from fares. This compares to 38% in New York and 47% in Madrid’s transport system and this meant that TfL’s financial model was simply not built to withstand the coronavirus pandemic. London is one of the only major cities in Europe without a regular government grant to cover its day-to-day operations.

I‘m very fortunate that my career has allowed me to experience a rich diversity of cities all around the world – New York, Toronto and Sydney. But one thing remains the same no matter where you go, and that’s the value of safe, inclusive and reliable public transport.

Public transport provides access to work, leisure and education. It supports new homes, jobs and economic growth. It makes cities greener, healthier and more attractive to investors. Now, more than ever before, transport has one of the most significant roles to play in making cities cleaner and healthier places, reducing carbon emissions and stimulating green technology and innovation. It is vital that we avoid a car-led recovery, with the pollution and road danger that would entail.

Here in London we’re ready to play our part in that – to continue to modernise and improve our roads and public transport, upgrade ageing infrastructure to keep it safe for everyone and provide safer, more reliable and greener ways for people to get around.

Around half of all new buses in the UK come to London. Our fleet is big enough to kick-start a huge new market in green energy, battery manufacturing and electric buses – changing the face of the UK bus fleet by 2030, helping to tackle the climate and air quality crisis and green generating jobs and skills across the country.

Delivering the Northern Line Extension to Battersea and the London Overground extension to Barking Riverside, and, of course, opening the Elizabeth line, will unlock thousands of new homes and the new economic growth that London desperately needs. As the Elizabeth line gets closer to becoming an operational railway I want responsibility for Crossrail to transfer to me and we are working with Crossrail and the Department for Transport to look at governance arrangements to make that happen in the near future. Subject to us getting the necessary funding I will guarantee we open the Elizabeth line, this much needed expansion to London’s transport network, open in the shortest possible timeframe. And increasing step-free access across the network is vital if London’s jobs, shops and leisure are to be truly open to everyone.

But, given the effects of the pandemic, to carry on our work to achieve this we must have appropriate Government support. The stakes are extremely high for London and for the UK. Failing to invest in transport would hamper the economic recovery and set us on a downward spiral of ageing infrastructure and increasingly unreliable and restricted transport services – in turn damaging confidence and restricting business.

I want to thank the London First members I met with earlier this month to discuss how we can work together to help London and the UK recover and prosper once more. I appreciated the frankness with which we spoke about this, and I want you to know how committed I am, like everyone at TfL, to ensuring that we do everything possible to rebuild the rich diversity of culture, commerce and opportunity for all that makes this city so special. I look forward to us meeting this challenge together. And to us succeeding.

Andy Byford is Commissioner of Transport for London. This article was originally published on the website of business group London First.

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