The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has issued a warning that an entire Tube line could close if the Government does not grant TfL the emergency and long-term funding it needs to maintain the capital’s transport services.
Speaking earlier today at the Centre for London conference, he repeated a warning that has been circulating for the past week.
The Mayor said “I agree with the Government and Mayors across the country when they say other regions should have ‘London-style’ transport services. But the irony is that a failure to provide enough operational and capital funding for TfL means that it won’t be long before London itself will no longer have ‘London-style’ transport services.”
However, at the moment there’s no information as to which tube line could close, or what the financial implications would be.
If a line needs to close, in order for that to lead to savings, with the exception of the Waterloo & City line, closing a stand-alone line could only deliver savings if the drivers are also laid-off, as it would take a long time to retrain them to work on other lines. That would then also mean it would take ages to reopen a line, assuming the unions accepted that in the first place.
Speculating then – it’s possible that if a line were to be closed, it would be one of the sub-surface lines where there are overlaps with other lines to allow staff to be redeployed while delivering savings in lower running costs due to the trains not in use. That could see, for example, the Circle line closed, which would be a headline-grabbing decision while also being vastly less damaging to London than for example, closing the Northern line.
The savings from closing, for example, the Circle line would be less than from closing another line, but it would also be much easier to carry out.
The current funding deal that keeps TfL running is due to expire on 11th December 2021. TfL is currently seeking £500m in operational support through to the end of the financial year 2021/22, and around £1.2bn will be needed for the financial year 2022/23.
TfL is unusual compared to other major city public transport networks in being dependent on revenue from ticket sales for 72 per cent of its income, which is unusually high by international standards.
Although there is an argument that increased working from home has reduced the long term passenger numbers on London’s public transport, that reduction is likely to be concentrated in the higher earning office workers. If TfL is left to fund the majority of its services from fares as it currently has to, that cost burden will fall more heavily on those who can’t work from home, and those people typically tend to be at the lower end of the pay scale.
A TfL that remains so heavily dependent on fares income would therefore increase inequality in London by forcing the lower paid to pay more to get to work.