TfL’s existing funding agreement with the government has been extended to the end of the month while both sides continue to negotiate over a long term funding settlement.
TfL’s Finance Committee held a meeting today to discuss the financing situation as the current £1.6 billion funding agreement to keep TfL running during the lockdown and slow recovery was due to expire tomorrow, leaving TfL facing a critical decision.
In theory, TfL could have been forced to shut-down most of its services, and although always considered to be highly unlikely, the possibility remained a worrying Damocelan sword hanging over TfL.
With the collapse in fares income and TfL being, by international standards, unusually highly dependent on fares to cover its costs, the organisation is losing around £45 million a week, which is unsustainable.
TfL has asked for a funding settlement of £2 billion for the second half of this financial year – taking it to the end of March 2021, and a further £2.9 billion for the following year — to March 2022. The Department for Transport sent over a proposal for further funding to TfL a week ago, and the two sides have been in negotiation ever since.
With the 17th October deadline looking likely to be missed, the two sides have agreed to extend the current funding agreement — to 31st October — Halloween.
Fortunately, improvements in passengers on tubes and buses means that not all of the £1.6 billion agreed back in May has been spent, so no more money is needed to keep them running until the end of this month.
What was unmentioned though was Crossrail. Although it has enough money for existing contracts to run until next March, the financial authority to sign new contracts is expected to expire imminently, and a deal on funding that is also needed.
The details of the discussion between the DfT and TfL are still private, but leaked suggestions that the DfT wants the road congestion charge zone extended considerably all the way out to the north and south circular roads was effectively confirmed.
The congestion zone was introduced in 2003, and is still one of the largest in the world, even after the Western Extension, which operated between 2007 and 2011 was removed. The suggested expansion would increase the area covered roughly 10-fold.
Part of the argument for the current congestion zone is that most of the public transport is aligned with bringing people into central London, so the congestion charge would persuade some people to swap cars for trains, and the funding would support public transport improvements. However, the larger proposed zone encompasses many more commuter routes running around the central zone that are not as well supported by public transport.
Someone living in, for example, Oval needing to get to south-east London is not going to find it anything like as convenient to switch to public transport.
That is just one of the many issues being debated behind closed doors while Londoners wait to find out what the eventual outcome will be.
TfL’s Commissioner, Andy Byford said that they are “edging towards a deal”, but TfL only has until Halloween to iron out the differences.