England’s government has exploited TfL’s crisis – caused by no fault of its own – to effectively take it over, and un-devolve London’s power over its transport system, the only truly devolved asset that London had.
The UK government subsidizes the UK rail industry by £7.2bn per year. The private firms who profit from that invest just £1.1bn. The government stopped funding TfL altogether in 2018, leaving fares, advertising and the congestion charge as its only source of revenue. TfL was the only public transport system in the whole of western Europe that received no government funding. Effectively, the tube and London Overground were the only major rail systems in Britain which the govenment did not subsidize.
TfL nonetheless has a legal requirement to have cash reserves for 2 months. Because the Covid crisis took passengers off public transport and forced the Mayor to suspend the congestion charge – TfL’s main sources of income – it came close to depleting that reserve and needed a grant. The government seized that opportunity to impose:
- fare rises above the inflation rate
- ending of OAP concessions in peak hours
- stopping free travel for under-18s
- rasing the congestion charge to £15
- extending the congestion charge to 10pm and weekends
- two government minders on TfL’s board
In return, TfL gets a bailout of £1.6bn, which is not enough to run a full service through to September, and a loan of £0.5bn, which Londoners will be paying back for years to come.
Yet, London is the govenment’s main source of income. London subsidizes the rest of the UK to the tune of £39bn per year. That is, an average of £4,369 a year which they take from every single one of us. In other words, Londoners are being forced to pay for a loan from our own money.
Meanwhile, we can be sure that the government minders on TfL’s board will be pressing for significant financial changes in TfL’s structure. This could mean unstaffed stations (causing accessibility and security problems), further bus route reductions, shelving of projects such as Crossrail 2 and the Bakerloo Line extension, and pay freezes for the staff who are risking their lives at this very moment to keep London ticking over.
And already, with next May’s election in mind, members of the Conservative party are trying to make out that the cash crisis which Covid brought upon TfL was somehow Sadiq Khan’s fault. When they run down our transport system still further, they will blame that on him too. And he, for his part, seems to be accepting all this. Perhaps he didn’t have much choice. But we do.
Londependence will be putting up a slate of candidates for the London Assembly next May. We will be giving Londoners the chance to vote firmly against this takeover. It is an outrage that we are being forced to pay through the nose for a transport system upon which the whole UK economy depends, while having control of that system stolen from us.
This deal is awful for London, and it is an insult to Londoners. Crisis or no crisis, we should not take it sitting down.