Talks between TfL and government on future funding for public transport in London are going to the wire yet again with a deadline of midnight tonight (31st October).
With lockdown number 2 hitting the headlines, talks have taken a backseat in the public’s mind. Government proposals to extend the congestion charge, increase fares substantially above inflation and increase council tax for Londoners met a storm of protest in recent weeks since plans were revealed at talks two weeks ago. The talks failed, and a two week extension was agreed which brings us to today.
If there is no agreement the government have threatened to take over operation under the control of the Department for Transport, and could then enforce the measures.
Business groups strongly oppose conditions as have many Tories in private.
Council tax looks likely to rise via the GLA precept. Council tax is one of the most regressive taxes with relatively little difference between different bands and wealth. A £20 million central London property can pay around the same council tax including GLA precept (£1,560.56 for the top Band H in Westminster) as a £200k home in some other parts of the capital. Top level council tax in London is far below levels in other major world cities such as New York where a multi-million pound homes pays tens if not hundreds of thousands annually in property tax.
If the Conservative government insist on local funding, they should permit local devolution to raise income. Where better than multi-million pound homes to bring London into line with other major world cities? Placing ever more costs onto low earners in London is hardly fair.
Government and the London Conservative Mayoral Candidate Shaun Bailey have attempted to blame Sadiq Khan for a lack of income rather than the pandemic – though the numbers used in attempts to demonstrate “waste” are transparently not enough to compensate for covid costs.
TfL were looking at fare income of £5.4 billion in 2021/22 in business plans before the pandemic. This year they had budgeted for fare income at just over £5 billion.
From 23rd Match bus passenger numbers fell around 80 per cent at a stroke and tube numbers even further. The deaths of over 30 bus drivers saw emergency measures including rear-door only boarding. Seven months on and bus numbers had reached 60 per cent of normal levels and tube numbers 40 per cent – yet new restrictions are seeing that fall again. A new lockdown will see it fall further.
That has cost big sums, and Bailey’s examples of savings come nowhere near making up the shortfall. He has pushed various examples of savings which barely touch the surface compared to reductions in fare income.
He comes up with a new example of “waste” and “costs” almost daily. Last week it was travel passes for TfL staff; a perk that has existed for decades. Bailey portrayed it as “passes for flatmates” rather than the reality, a single pass (not passes) and usually for spouses – though staff have discretion to pick one allocated person.
He attributes costs such as those as a factor in TfL being “bankrupt”, when audited figures show the operating deficit had reduced in recent years and was on track for break even.
Debts that Bailey does mention are capital costs. Any infrastructure improvement has capital dept and costs attached. Nothing would have ever been built without it.
And it’s not as if night buses are great for staff to reach depots or stations. Indeed, many night bus services have been cut back in recent years due to TfL losing £700 million a year in funding. Overnight tubes have been suspended for months with bailout number 1 in May including that as a condition of funding.
With a new lockdown being announced today, will it be used as cover to push through measures? We should find out soon.