London facing ‘Armageddon’ without major transport investment, TfL chief says

London facing ‘Armageddon’ without major transport investment, TfL chief says

With just a week to go until Transport for London’s cash runs out, negotiations with the government over further support for the network are only just getting underway with the capital facing “Armageddon” if funding is not forthcoming, TfL commissioner Andy Byford has told the London Assembly transport committee.

The new commissioner used his second appearance before Assembly Members, to make a passionate plea for long-term government backing for the system he took over at the beginning of July. “London is the economic engine of the country,” he said. “The recovery of London fuels the recovery of the UK, and TfL is part of the solution, not part of the problem. A great city needs a great transport system.” 

Byford warned AMs only last week that TfL is rapidly burning through its remaining reserves, secured by a £1.6 billion, six-month government bailout in May after the pandemic saw fares income slump by 90%.

With the network dependent on fares for three-quarters of its income, TfL is seeking £2 billion support through to April next year, plus a further £2.9 million for 2021/22. Without a settlement, TfL, treated as a local authority rather than a public utility, could fall foul of legal requirements to maintain a balanced budget – forcing it to issue the “Section 114” notice effectively confirming it could no longer pay its way.

With latest figures showing London Underground ridership recovering to just 34% of last year’s numbers and bus ridership at 58% of 2019 levels, longer-term funding is vital to support essential services and promote economic recovery across the country, Byford said, reminding the committee that 55 pence in every TfL pound is spent outside the capital. 

“So we are delivering ‘levelling up’ as well,” he said. “Not to continue to invest in London’s transport, in my professional opinion, is madness. If we don’t do it we will face Armageddon – the slippery slope of cuts in services, repairs and maintenance, the slow decline in London’s status as a world city, from which it will take years to recover.”

But while warning of a “car-led” recovery, increasing pollution and leaving the capital “hopelessly mired in a massive traffic jam”, Byford also struck an optimistic note. 

“There’s always opportunity in adversity,” he said. “I passionately believe in London’s viability. I don’t believe the doom and gloom merchants who say London is finished. I believe London will bounce back, and TfL can and must play its part in that.”

TfL is a “remarkable institution” highly regarded around the world, he added, recalling that his 30-year career in public transit, including senior jobs in Australia, Canada and most recently New York – where he was affectionately known as “train daddy” – had begun with a graduate trainee station foreman’s post at Regent’s Park tube station. Byford’s grandfather had also worked for 40 years driving a London bus, he revealed.

The full committee meeting can be viewed here.

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