Sadiq Khan has repeated warnings of a “managed decline” of London’s transport network, as the deadline for a further funding deal with Whitehall approaches.
The beleaguered network’s current lifeline funding runs out in less than six weeks, with negotiations with government over more support proceeding “very slowly”, the Mayor reported at today’s Mayor’s Question Time session at the new Docklands City Hall.
Transport for London is now on track to break even on operating costs by next April, as the government had insisted it should be when agreeing funding to stave off effective bankruptcy when the pandemic lockdown saw fares income evaporate from March 2020, Khan said.
Hard Whitehall bargaining saw the Mayor obliged to hike fares and his share of Londoners’ council tax to bridge budget gaps, which will also require some £1 billion in extra emergency support in 2022/23.
The sticking point now is agreement on capital investment, without which, Khan warned, “managed decline” scenario described by TfL – up to 18 per cent cuts to bus services and a nine per cent reduction to the Tube network – remains likely.
“It’s no way to run a £10 billion business,” Khan said, adding that cuts of that order would be a “disaster” for London and for businesses across the country relying on TfL contracts to support “tens of thousands of jobs”. Although the Department for Transport has set out a “technical framework” for investment support, no figures are yet on the table, the Mayor added. “Without that, TfL can’t construct a budget,” he said.
“We need to break out of the cycle of short-term piecemeal deals and move towards a serious, sustainable approach that ensures London’s transport network can go on meeting the needs of our city. A long-term deal is the only way TfL can afford to invest in the network and avoid service cuts.”
One casualty of a failure to secure longer-term investment could be TfL’s bus action plan, a 10-year programme to boost efficiency, improve connections and transform the city’s 9,000-strong bus fleet to net zero carbon emissions, Khan added.
Current plans to reduce bus services overall by four per cent, to help meet break-even targets, would see some buses moving from central London to the outer boroughs where ridership was recovering strongly, he said. But without a deal those plans would remain on paper only. “The demand is there,” he said. “Further reductions would be catastrophic in outer London.”
TfL would also be unable to offer vehicle scrappage help for affected by the extension of the Ultra Low Emission Zone next year to cover the whole of the city, Khan added. “We need that help from government, because the government won’t meet its targets on carbon reduction unless London meets its targets.”
Furthermore, permanent security barriers protecting against terrorist attacks on five river crossings where TfL is the bridge owner or highway authority would be delayed. Permanent works are almost completed on Westminster Bridge, but barriers would remain temporary on Lambeth, Vauxhall, Blackfriars, London and Tower bridges, he said. “That’s another reason why there is an urgent need for a long-term capital deal.”
The Mayor also dismissed suggestions that introducing s0-called driverless trains would be cost-effective, with TfL analysis suggesting new trains, new signalling and platform edge doors across the network would be needed.
“There’s absolutely no prospect of short-term savings and it would need the government to commit substantial capital,” he said, arguing that renewing existing trains such as those on the Bakerloo Line – at 50 years old the oldest rolling stock in the country – should be the priority.
Comments by transport secretary Grant Shapps as the Elizabeth Line was officially opened on Tuesday suggested agreement might not be imminent. Writing in the Evening Standard the minister chose to keep up the government’s war of words with City Hall, claiming Khan was asking taxpayers “up and down the country” to balance his books. “But this is a two-way street, and Mr Khan must make some promises of his own. Promises to advance and accelerate the long-overdue reforms TfL needs,” he wrote.
The whole of the question time session can be viewed here.
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