As with all aspects of transport in London in 2022, the backdrop to rail travel under Transport for London’s control was problematic in several ways.
Pandemic restrictions continued to apply until February. Boris Johnson and lieutenants hostile to Sadiq Khan continued to micromanage TfL from Whitehall-on-High until, following two years of what now-departed Commissioner Andy Byford described in June as “never-ending, exhausting, frustrating negotiations with government over funding”, a 20-month deal was done at the end of August.
A series of strikes by RMT union members working on the Underground and Overground began in March and continued at intervals through to November with no resolution to the dispute achieved. National rail strikes also had effects on revenues and riderships.
Add to these difficulties the periods of extreme weather and the particular effects of the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, and it has been a turbulent struggle of a year, ending amid the soaring cost of living with a new TfL business plan influenced by the spirit of Mr Micawber and with the future for the Tube, the Overground, the Docklands Light Railway far from clear.
“It is not yet possible to discern clear trends that could be regarded as representing settled post-pandemic levels of demand,” says TfL’s latest annual Travel in London report of public transport as a whole.
As of October, average daily demand for the Underground for 2022 was put by TfL at “about 82% of the pre-pandemic levels” and DLR and the Overground at about 80%. A report to the TfL board for its meeting on 7 December gave the same figure for the Tube but the Overground at 83% of pre-pandemic levels and the DLR at 78%. Unlike the principal road transport modes, the bus and private car, these overall rail figures have contained significant variations during working weeks, especially the Tube.
“Recovery has been noticeably faster on weekends than on weekdays,” Travel In London 15 confirms, with Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays having higher numbers relative to Mondays and Fridays than before the pandemic. TfL’s network demand site shows well over three million Tube users on most normal working days, compared with just over four million in early 2020, before the lockdowns.
The big good news from 2022, of course has been the success of the Elizabeth Line, whose long-awaited central section finally opened on the 24 May 2022, augmented by the new Bond Street station in October and with direct services between central London and Reading, Shenfield and Heathrow coming on stream in November.
The 7 December board meeting heard that journey numbers have been “above expectations” and income since May “£29 million higher than expected”, though income from some other services will have fallen as passengers chose the swift and deluxe Elizabeth Line over older options.
The year also saw, in July, the Overground extended to link Barking and the huge Barking Riverside development, and more Underground stations were made step-free during this year, so that 92 out of 272 are now so equipped. The extension of the Northern Line with two new stations, Nine Elms and Battersea Power Station, from September 2021 has resulted in about 90,000 people entering them each week, the majority using the latter station.
Looking ahead, TfL will be anxiously hoping that the Elizabeth Line continues to flourish and that weekday use of the Underground, Overground and DLR inches up in spite of everything that’s been holding it down. Its business plan for 2023, approved by the board, looks forward to introducing 94 new Piccadilly Line trains and 43 on the DLR, but a fares-related funding gap still looms. March 2024, when the current funding deal with national government expires, is not all that far away.
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