Central London property group asks government to do more to restore confidence in public transport

Central London property group asks government to do more to restore confidence in public transport

A leading London property sector body has called on transport secretary Grant Shapps to do more to build public confidence in the capital’s public transport networks and assist Central London’s economic recovery.

In a letter, the London Property Alliance (LPA), which represents over 400 property owners, developers and real estate professionals in Westminster and the City, has urged Shapps to provide “ongoing and sustainable funding” for Transport for London and “stronger messaging” from the government to “re-install employer and employee confidence” in using the Underground, other rail services and buses.

The request comes as the end of the period covered by the government’s emergency financial bailout of TfL approaches and amid concerns that the very slow return to public transport use seen since lockdown measures began being eased is inhibiting the economic recovery of Central London, which is vital to the UK’s wider prosperity.

The LPA’s letter tells Shapps, “The government’s strong message to avoid public transport on public health grounds was listened to” but has become “cemented in people’s minds” with the result that “whilst both rail operators and TfL are now close to operating full services, demand is not rebounding to match this capacity”. It describes as “devastating” the impacts on Central London’s economy, citing recent figures showing a year-on-year collapse in West End footfall.

With substantial numbers of financial sector employees working from home and some major companies giving their blessing for this to continue, some of Central London’s economic output, estimated to account for at least 10% of the UK’s overall total, will have continued to be produced from outside office locations, but the LPA tells Shapps there are “evident ‘agglomeration’ effects” brought about by similar businesses operating in close geographical clusters, including nurturing a “productivity bonus” in some sectors which “cannot be replicated in other, suburban, locations or online”.

The LPA’s appeal to Shapps to ensure continued funding for TfL “in order to prevent a reduction in services” comes as the period covered by the government’s financial bailout of TfL, announced in May, nears its end – the “support period” for essential services formally covers 1 April until 17 October – and a second temporary package is anticipated against the backdrop of a wide-ranging government review of TfL’s finances and funding in the longer term.

Sadiq Khan has separately set up an “independent commission” of four unpaid experts to examine possible alternatives to the funding model introduced when Boris Johnson was London Mayor, which has seen the withdrawal of government support for the cost of the day-to-day running of TfL’s public transport services. This has created a heavier dependence on income from fares, which has been massively reduced during the coronavirus period.

The LPA letter, which is copied to Deputy Mayor for Transport Heidi Alexander among others, describes London’s public transport funding as “more dependent on fare revenue than any major city in the world” and underlines that social distancing requirements mean capacity is only at 40% of normal levels. However, it urges to Shapps to strengthen government guidance “to encourage the safe return of workers to city centre offices where possible” with publicity about safety measures “such as regular deep cleaning and the requirement of passengers to wear face coverings and observe social distancing”.

Shapps is also asked to increase promotion of the “active travel” options walking and cycling and  to conduct a “rail ticketing review” taking in the possible introduction of reduced price “carnet tickets” consistent with trends towards more flexible and home-based working which were already underway before the pandemic. The LPA endorses a “head out to  help out” discount scheme advocated by the watchdog Transport Focus.

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