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RETURN AND RECOMMIT:
RETURN AND RECOMMIT:
a sustainable future for London’s transport network
As Transport for London (TfL) marks its twentieth anniversary, it faces two existential challenges: an unprecedented reduction in passenger numbers during lockdown and, largely as a consequence of this, a collapse in revenue.
Unlike other regions of the UK, millions commute in and out of London on a daily basis and the city relies much more heavily on public transport than anywhere else in the country. Only 3 in 10 Londoners drive to work – less than half the rate of any other region in the UK. This means that London’s economy will not fully recover without a return to public transport.
However, even before Covid-19 struck, there was a structural weakness at the heart of London’s devolution settlement. London’s public transport is more dependent on fare revenue than any major city in the world, so losing 90% of this income overnight was always going to require central Government intervention. At the same time, while TfL has responsibility for the operation of London’s transport network, it does not have the resources or powers needed to fund this over the long term. As the Mayor of London pointed out when TfL received its first bailout from Whitehall in October (now extended until March) a sustainable funding model“will involve either permanent funding from Government or giving London more control over taxes so we can pay for it ourselves – or a combination of both.”
At the heart of London’s recovery from the pandemic lies the need to RETURN to public transport in the capital and RECOMMIT to TfL in the long term.
To support London’s economy as the city reopens, and to support Londoners’ safe return to transport, we urge action in three key areas:
A clear, consistent, communications campaign is required from Government, the Mayor, and TfL to get Londoners back onto public transport safely
Cities around the world are following a fairly predictable trajectory once they unlock with most seeing somewhere between a third and two-thirds of normal usage having returned within the first two months. But London is an outlier in this trend, seeing noticeably slower returns to public transport. People need clarity on how the situation has changed and encouragement to return to public transport. Much has been done to make public transport as safe as possible: this now needs to be communicated – by government at all levels, by operators, and by employers – to the public to rebuild trust in transport.
Co-operation is needed between TfL, employers, and schools to map potential pinch points on the network, retime journeys, and avoid congestion
Direct engagement with businesses as they prepare to reopen is essential. For smaller companies, advice on how to apply TfL data to office planning is critical. There must also be a clear strategy for ensuring that the return to school, as well as to offices, does not overwhelm the bus network: this needs to be confirmed well in advance so that operators, schools, and the wider public can prepare.
TfL should enable further use of data to help commuters plan their journeys, and provide clarity about the criteria for assessing the success of temporary interventions.
TfL has been a pioneer in making its data available to third parties, now is the time to leverage that experience as we unlock. Predictive data that allows employers to plan for office reopening, as well as helping Londoners to plan their journeys to avoid busy stations or routes, should be combined with real-time advice so that adjustments can be made in the moment. It should be as accessible as possible and promoted widely, including via third parties such as popular journey planning apps. TfL should also set out clear criteria for assessing schemes like Streetspaces and the changes to the Congestion Charge.
To ensure that London’s transport network continues to function, is able to deliver the services that Londoners need, and is financially sustainable in the long run, we urge action in three key areas:
Londoners expect the Mayor and central Government to work constructively on future bailout agreements to keep services running.
In the short term, TfL will require continued Government support. For at least as long as public transport demand is suppressed by the ongoing impacts of Covid-19, this will remain the case. City Hall and central Government will need to work constructively together to both keep Londoners safe, and keep the city moving.
Without the reintroduction of a substantial grant from central Government, new localised powers will be needed to ensure sustainable funding for TfL.
Devolving responsibilities to London without devolving resources was always going to be an unstable structure. This crisis should be the catalyst for a fundamental rethink. The RPI + 1% fare rise mandated in the bailout agreement will not be sufficient. This will require a grassroots reassessment of the fares regime . It will require a new generation of pricing techniques for road use. And it will require new mechanisms to enable London to raise more revenue locally in a way that can equitably tap the beneficiaries of new transport investment.
Securing a sustainable future for TfL will require all parties to recommit to the principles of devolution.
Transport for London was created 20 years ago because London lacked an integrated transport authority able to run the services that the capital needed. TfL has made travel in London easier and more reliable to the benefit of both Londoners and our visitors. If London is to thrive post-Covid, and to effectively support the economic recovery across the UK, Government must recommit to this principle of devolution and go further than the previous settlement. London needs the powers to run a sustainable transport authority, not just the responsibility for running the existing transport network.
At this time of unprecedented challenge and change for TfL, London First is bringing together insight from across the private sector to learn the lessons from the first twenty years of TfL and look to the next two decades of transport in London. We will be publishing blogs, essays and opinion pieces in the weeks ahead and would welcome input from members and stakeholders. If you have comments, or would like to contribute, please contact Adam Tyndall.
The government should devolve more transport funding powers to London