Transport for London has been running “near-normal” levels of service across its public transport network through much of the pandemic since July 2020. By April 2021, TfL analysis suggested that 1.7 million Londoners (more than 40% of pre-pandemic figures) were using the network during the working week. At the end of May, TfL was able to announce it was running a “full and comprehensive bus network of around 8,000 buses every day” across its network.
But is “near normal” the new normal? This article will look at the immediate future of funding for Transport for London, and whether its ridership’s needs are irrevocably changed.
Transport for London secures further government funding
After months of to-and-fro, Transport for London managed to secure a further £1 billion of emergency rescue funding from the government, taking the full figure up to £4.9 billion since the beginning of the COVID pandemic.
As part of the rescue deal, Transport for London has had to accept a further, immediate budget cut. They will have to find £300 million of savings from their budget in this financial year, representing about 4% of their annual £6.5 billion operating costs.
Transport for London will also be obliged to identify money-raising schemes they could embark upon to recoup some of this investment, with the government having told them to identify £500 million to £1 billion of income-generating measures from April 2023 onwards. This is in addition to the £730 million per year of spending cuts that the firm was already expecting by 2025.
A change of route: will we return to pre-pandemic usage?
As COVID hit the UK, we were all told to work from home where possible. In April 2020, 46.6% of employed people did some of their work from home, and 86% of these did so as a result of the pandemic. In London, the figure was higher, with 57.2% of Londoners doing some work from home. Whilst there are employers and employees who are itching to return to the office, this isn’t the general trend. This Strathclyde survey illustrated that only 10% of workers surveyed wanted to return to the office. So – has COVID changed the shape of public transport forever?
The government is clearly aware of this season of change, as they announced last month the launch of a new rail offering – the flexible season ticket. New season tickets, courtesy of the national rail, will allow workers who only commute to the office two or three days a week to still make a considerable saving by buying a railcard for their commute, under the hashtag #TheFutureIsFlexible. Their online ‘season ticket calculator’ will help passengers to work out the cheapest commute option for them. Tickets for this service were in action from Monday the 28th June, and have been available for purchase from the 21st.
This is one of the first steps in the Williams-Schapps reform plan for the railway, which sets out plans to make railway the cleaner, more efficient and more financially sustainable option for commuters of the future, levelling up UK towns, cities and whole regions.