Sources today are suggesting that changes to London buses are to be introduced imminently that will possibly see free bus trips for children removed and restricted usage times for Freedom Pass holders over 60.
Freedom Pass holders will see free travel from 9:30am to 11pm. Children will pay 75p a trip. TfL have yet to confirm the exact date though we know it’s coming soon.
Double decker buses will be limited to 20 passengers and see front door boarding resume from tomorrow (30th May) on many – but not all – routes.
Measures were pushed through by central Government as part of a recent bail out for TfL. The terms of the bailout enforced cuts – and without them TfL would have collapsed within hours and by law would have been forced to issue a Section 114 notice with would see extreme cuts across the board.
EDIT: Documents just released (11am on Friday 29 May) confirm it was central Government who insisted on an increase in the congestion charge and free fare removal. Post coming soon on that.
TfL saw a 90 per cent reduction in income as lockdown begun and forecast a £3.2 billion shortfall this year. No transport authority anywhere in the world can withstand that.
Unlike across most of the world, Government had already entirely cut funding support through grants for public transport in London to the tune of £700 million a year and then compounded the issue by claiming Vehicle Excise Duty from London drivers but prevented it from being spent in the capital.
Some have complained that Sadiq Khan and TfL had been wasteful. Without getting into the specifics, projects quoted by opponents are often in the tens of millions. A drop in the ocean compared to a £3.2 billion shortfall and would make no impact on issuing a Section 114 notice. It may have bought a week. The fares freeze cost £640 million over four years – which is still less than one year’s cut from central Government at £700 million per annum. Again, a measure to reduce congestion on roads over four years is about 20 per cent of the current shortfall.
So we already had a very precarious situation, and then the pandemic hit and instead of government support – again as seen in most cities across the world – Whitehall have enforced cuts. The upcoming London Mayoral election is no doubt a part of this, but risking the UK’s financial powerhouse and major tax raising power of London for political games is extraordinary.
The bailout will only cover a few months income – and of £1.6 billion, £505 million is a loan which will further hamper London’s transport network as repayment is needed. What happens after summer is unknown. Is Government really willing to destroy the London economy to allow a Conservative candidate a chance at the next election?
Like or loath Khan – and there’s much I’ve criticised him for – no Mayor or transport authority can withstand what has happened. Instead of supporting the capital, central Government have decided to swing the axe. They often talk about “levelling up” the UK. In reality, they’re levelling down. Other UK cities will not see London standards of transport to fight congestion. Instead London will be dragged down to levels elsewhere. If you’ve ever taken buses in most UK cities or used the one train an hour service in many cities from Bristol in the south to Manchester in the north you’ll know how bad it is. London could be heading there.
The removal of free travel for children and over 60s in the mornings is said to be temporary. We shall see. TfL will again run out of money soon without further support. Perhaps that’s the point. Whitehall says its temporary and yet doesn’t support London’s transport and so fares will be retained. Who takes the blame? It’s the classic trap of shifting blame to a local level through decisions made centrally.
Just yesterday the UK Government is talking of permitting 300,000 people from Hong Kong to move to the UK. Many will move to London. But they won’t fund infrastructure to support it.
In addition fares will rise above inflation. In coming years when normality returns car use increases, congestion increases and the economy stagnates.