The capital’s official transport-users’ watchdog has urged the government to delay a July “review” of bus travel demand imposed on Transport for London due to worries that it will result in premature cuts to services.
London TravelWatch, which seeks to represent the interests of Londoners and others who use all the city’s transport networks, fears that the review will result in reductions in bus services being forced on TfL before it’s clear how many people want to make use of them as Covid restrictions are eased in the longer term.
Emma Gibson, the London TravelWatch director, expressed concern that “any review into demand for the bus before most people have returned to work will not give an accurate picture of future bus demand and may lead to the premature cutting of services”. Bus use has long tended to reduce over the summer months as schools break up and less commuting takes place.
Similar assessments of demand for London Underground and other rail transport services are required under the “conditions-based” funding arrangement, but these are not scheduled to take place until September. Gibson says ill-judged bus service reductions could make buses less attractive resulting in “crowding and an inability to socially distance and a subsequent drop in fares revenue” with knock-on ill-effects on London’s economic revival and greater use of private motor vehicles.
Gibson’s call is supported by Adam Tyndall, Programme Director for Transport at business group London First, who said “it is crucial that the government waits to review service levels for buses until the country is fully unlocked, not in the middle of continued uncertainty.” Warning that “jumping to conclusions” could trigger “a cycle of decline”, Tyndall added that “A well-serviced bus network will help the capital avoid a car-led recovery and will ensure sustainable transport options are there for Londoners as they create new habits.”
Bus usage has been recovering more quickly than Tube ridership, with TfL figures showing weekday demand consistently exceeding 60 per cent in recent weeks compared with roughly 45 per cent for the Underground.
Transport for London’s most recent annual Travel in London report, published at the end of last year, showed that buses continued to be the most-used public transport mode in London, accounting (along with trams) for 14 per cent of daily trips in the capital in 2019 and 19 per cent of individual journey stages.
By comparison, the Underground and other rail services each made up 11 per cent of daily trips and, respectively, 12 per cent and 11 per cent of journey stages. Private motor cars accounted for 35 per cent of daily trips and 31 per cent of journey stages. The figure for cycling, a particular interest of the Prime Minister’s transport adviser and former media supporter Andrew Gilligan, was two per cent in both cases.
TfL has been told to spend a minimum of £100 million on “continuing the delivery of healthy streets and active travel programmes”, which include redesigning roads to give exclusive space to people riding bicycles, though the money must also pay for a “temporary walking and cycling ferry” next to Hammersmith Bridge while it is out of use.
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