Part of the cost of funding trains and buses could be higher council taxes across London, on top of higher fares and a wider congestion charge.
Although Transport for London (TfL) and the Department for Transport (DfT) are still negotiating over the terms of a medium-term funding to cover the lockdown losses, some details are emerging.
It was already known that the DfT wants the London congestion charge zone massively expanded to cover the whole area within the north and south circular roads – bringing roughly 4 million Londoners into the congestion zone.
It’s now being suggested that London’s council taxes may need to rise as well, with the Mayor’s precept portion of the council tax being increased to raise money for TfL.
Although TfL fares were already expected to rise by one per cent above inflation, it’s being suggested that the fares rise could be higher than that. The Government is also pushing with plans to remove free travel for under-18s and are now also proposing the removal of the 60+ photocard.
The Mayor called on the Government to reconsider its ‘ill-advised and draconian’ proposal and warned their plan would ‘punish Londoners for doing the right thing to tackle Covid-19’.
The DfT is reported to be considering taking direct control of TfL away from the Mayor if a deal is not agreed. In a letter, Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary said that “We will be taking reserve legislative powers allowing us if necessary to direct TfL,” — adding that this would be “combined with a further series of short-term funding settlements.”
Regardless of who runs TfL, the notion of short-term funding settlements would see TfL returned to the situation its various predecessors faced in the past — having to go to the Treasury every year to beg for money and being unable to plan for the long term future of London’s transport.
The DfT is also reported to be pushing for more work on driverless trains, even though that’s not only going to make a modest impact on TfL costs, it could only be delivered at a cost of billions in network upgrades.
In fact, if the goal is to cut costs, then as the London Underground makes an operational profit and drivers salary are a small portion of its costs — driverless trains is a waste of effort. Driverless buses though — that’s where a genuine saving would occur, as buses run at a loss and drivers salaries make up over half the cost of running a bus.
Driverless buses are less politically “sexy” though, not to mention far harder to build – so all the fuss is on driverless trains even though there are minimal cost savings to be had from them.
TfL and the DfT having until the end of next week to agree on terms, otherwise, TfL faces the potential of being legally required to shut down any non-statutory services — which would mean most buses and trains being taken out of service until a deal is agreed.