Transport for London’s consultation about the future of 78 inner and central London bus routes has become the latest battleground in the ongoing political conflict between Sadiq Khan and the national government, with the Mayor accusing Boris Johnson of forcing TfL “to cut 21 routes” and an unnamed government source telling the Evening Standard Khan was “artificially creating” the prospect of whole routes being axed as part of an exercise in “bleeding stump politics”.
The row has exploded with just three weeks to go before the end of the government’s current short-term funding arrangement with TfL which came into effect in February and whose conditions include producing a plan for making financial savings. TfL says this means “reducing the extent of the bus network by four per cent by 2024/25“.
TfL and the Mayor have repeatedly requested a longer term funding agreement with the government, arguing that successive emergency funding packages, needed because of the devastating impact on TfL’s finances caused by passengers deserting public transport during the pandemic, make forward planning for the capital’s transport networks more difficult.
There have four government “bailouts” during the period, some of them with short extensions, coming into effect in May 2020, October/November 2020, June 2021 and February 2022, the last of which is due to expired on 24 June.
Disquiet has been expressed about possible outcomes of TfL’s “central London bus review“, which proposes an array of changes including to routes which have existed, albeit often in altered forms, for decades. TfL says it is “consulting on withdrawing some individual bus routes or sections of routes where they are covered by other high-frequency services or are close to alternative stops, simplifying the network to ensure buses are operating frequently and reliably in the areas that need them most”. Although bus ridership has been recovering, it is still some way short of pre-pandemic levels.
Adam Hug, leader of Westminster Council’s first ever Labour administration, said he was “deeply concerned” that what he called the government’s “failure to properly fund Transport for London while we recover from the pandemic” will have a damaging impact on low cost “transport lifeline for so many” and urged people to respond to the consultation.
Nick Bowes, director of think tank Centre for London, observed that the bus service was always likely to “face the brunt of any cuts”, as it is subsidised by profitable parts of the public transport network, notably the London Underground, but stressed that service reductions “will have big ramifications for Londoners that rely on public transport to study, work or meet friends, and particularly low income Londoners”. He warned that “cutting services could also provoke a downward spiral in usage, returning London’s buses to the bad old days before the improvements over the past two decades”.
At a more local level, the website 853, which covers Greenwich and other parts of south east London, has highlighted the anticipated reduction of route 53, attributing this to “government cuts”. TfL’s consultation about the proposed changes will run until 12 July.
Photograph: Au Morandarte (2014).
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