Transport for London chief strikes upbeat recovery note as bus and Tube use rises

Transport for London chief strikes upbeat recovery note as bus and Tube use rises

Transport for London chief Andy Byford has expressed his determination to contribute to London’s recovery from the pandemic as negotiations continue with the government over a future funding arrangement and figures show a continuing gradual increase in public transport use.

The commissioner told today’s TfL board meeting that “with lockdown easing over the coming weeks and months, we can now begin to play our part in opening up London.”

He described as “one of the big milestones” the “seamless re-introduction of  school bus services to get children back into the classroom safely” since the re-opening of schools from 8 March, and said his senior colleague Vernon Everitt, who has been appointed Recovery Director, is “putting together with London businesses a compelling programme to get people back and to do so safely, and to play our part proactively in getting the ridership back up”.

The latest figures from TfL show increases in bus use of between 25.3 and nearly 29.5 per cent for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of last week compared with the week before, and a 10.9 per cent rise yesterday compared with last Monday, which was the first day of the school return.

Bus use levels for all four week days rose to between 43.6 and 48.4 per cent of normal, pre-Covid levels and to over 40 per cent last weekend. Use of Zip cards has gone up to around 70 per cent of normal amounts, reflecting buses being used by school children again.

Tube ridership across the last six days has been hovering at around 20 per cent of normal levels, with yesterday the highest at 23.8 per cent of normal. Yesterday’s number showed a 6.7 per cent rise on last Monday’s.

Byford paid tribute to TfL staff and contractors, including cleaners, for keeping going throughout the pandemic, and said he was determined to rebuild morale throughout the 27,000-strong workforce, which has now lost 89 members to Covid.

He also described visiting the new Crossrail Elizabeth Line station at Farringdon, saying it is “spectacular, beautiful to wander around” and “a glimpse of the future and what will be the ultimate symbol of London’s phoenix-like resurgence and emergence from lockdown – when we open the Elizabeth Line as soon as we can safely do so.”

There was, however, less upbeat news about the latest negotiations with the government over future funding for TfL. Byford had previously said he hoped a new deal could be reached by today, providing certainty about TfL’s cash position as the new financial year approaches, but he told the meeting that during one of his “practically daily” conversations earlier that morning with the Department for Transport’s permanent secretary he had learned that no agreement has yet been made. Last week, he told the London Assembly’s transport committee he feared only a short-term deal would be offered.

Byford underlined to the board that TfL’s proposals for attaining financial self-sufficiency, which were submitted to the DfT in January, were “deliberately built around the way in which we can work with government, partner with government, to deliver wealth and job-creation with shovel-ready projects” along with pursing the government’s decarbonisation goals, including through the electrification of the London bus fleet. “You only get  that by investing, you do not get that by cutting service or cutting investment,” Byford said.

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