London faces unprecedented challenge

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The BBC has reported inside sources as saying London’s transport system faces a challenge like it has never seen before, as TfL faces a significant cut in income. Almost half of the capital’s income came from fare revenue in the 2019-2020 period, and fears are growing that passenger numbers will not rise to the same levels as previously once the COVID-19 emergency is over.

The BBC cites that it is costing £600m per month to keep London’s transport network running, reporting that doubts have been cast over the future of schemes such as Crossrail, and questions asked about the likelihood that people will return to public transport once movement restrictions are lifted. In Wuhan, where the coronavirus pandemic began, an IPSOS survey has found that private car use has roughly doubled (from 34% to 66%) and bus and metro use has more than halved, dropping from 56% to 24% after the city’s lockdown was lifted.

A TfL spokesperson told the BBC: “The success of the vital advice for people to stay at home and to only make essential journeys has seen a huge reduction in passenger numbers. We have minimised our operational costs significantly over recent years, meaning it costs around £600m a month to run our entire transport network. We are having constructive discussions with the Government about the support we need so that we can continue to serve the city effectively and carry on with the vital work that needs to be done during the pandemic and support the national effort to beat it.”

In a subsequent press release, TfL confirmed that 7,000 of their staff have either been furloughed or put on reduced hours.  This will allow TfL to access funding from the Government’s Job Retention Scheme, which it says will allow it to save an estimated £15.8m every four weeks, helping to partly offset the impact of coronavirus whilst constructive discussions continue with Government on the wider revenue support that TfL will need to continue the effective operation of London’s transport network.

Since London entered lockdown on 23 March, TfL has been urging Londoners to only make essential journeys. The vast majority of Londoners have listened to advice to stay at home, to not travel and so save lives. TfL reports that this has seen Tube journeys fall by 95% and journeys on buses fall by 85%, meaning that TfL’s main source of income has almost disappeared.

TfL says it has carefully assessed which roles within the organisation are suitable for the scheme, ensuring that all staff required for recovery planning and delivery are retained. This represents around 25% of the workforce employed.

London’s Transport Commissioner, Mike Brown, MVO said: “The transport network is crucial in the fight to tackle coronavirus and it will play a similarly vital role in supporting the country’s economy as it recovers from the pandemic. We have significantly cut our costs over recent years but nevertheless the success of encouraging the vast majority of people to stay at home has seen our main revenue, fares, reduce by 90 per cent. We are now taking steps to use the Government’s Job Retention Scheme to further reduce our costs where work has been paused because of the virus, while at the same time supporting our staff financially.

“Our work with the Government about the support that we need are ongoing and are constructive. We hope for an urgent agreement so that we can continue to provide the city with the vital transport it needs now and going forward.”