Tories used threat of cuts to London’s bus routes to force London Mayor to accept pension ‘reforms’ and to move towards potentially dangerous driverless Tube trains
The Conservative government has finally agreed a longer-term funding settlement for London’s buses, Tubes, trains and trams, but with enough strings attached to strangle the capital’s transport network for decades to come.
Under the £3.6billion deal set by transport minister Grant Shapps, the Tory government has deliberately set up London Mayor Sadiq Khan for a winter of disputes with the unions by insisting that Transport for London “reforms” its pension scheme, and delivers a set of proposals by the end of September.
Shapps has also maintained his hare-brained obsession with “driverless” trains on the London Underground, a move which most transport experts agree is impractical and very dangerous in the confined, and old, tunnels which form most of the Tube system.
The settlement does have several good points, such as reducing the level of increases in fares next year, and avoiding the threatened 18per cent cut in bus services; it provides for a longer-term settlement to the financing of the capital’s transport, this deal running through to April 2024; and it provides cash for significant upgrades for parts of the Tube network and the continued implementation of “active travel” schemes.
In the investment schemes listed in Shapps’ letter to the Mayor, there is no mention of any upgrades or extensions to the Croydon tram network. And road schemes such as long-promised improvements to the Fiveways junction on the Purley Way or remodelling the four-lane urban motorway in Croydon Old Town remain shelved, possibly forever.
With Transport for London heavily dependent on income from passenger fares, the covid lockdown in early 2020 saw its revenue streams dry up. Passenger numbers have yet to recover to pre-pandemic levels. Yesterday’s funding deal was the result of the sixth set of negotiations between DfT and TfL in the past two-and-a-half years.
Mayor Khan said the deal included terms he “had no choice but to accept in order to get the deal over the line to avoid TfL becoming bankrupt”.
He said: “The government is still leaving TfL with a significant funding gap, meaning we will likely have to increase fares in the future and still proceed with some cuts to bus services.
“There are also onerous strings attached, such as the government’s condition requiring TfL to come up with options for reform of TfL’s pension scheme at pace, which could well lead to more industrial action and more disruption for commuters.”
The overall package includes almost £1.2billion of upfront funding for TfL, and will allow Piccadilly Line trains to be bought, as well as upgrades to the District, Metropolitan, Hammersmith and City and Circle lines.
TfL Commissioner Andy Byford described the deal as “hard won”. TfL says that even with the settlement, they will have to manage a £740million funding gap.
DfT reckons it has now provided more than £6billion-worth of funding for London’s transport since May 2020.
The previous short-term deal had expired on August 3. Previous deals have been repeatedly extended but, earlier this month, Shapps insisted this offer would be the final financial package for TfL.
The DfT published Shapps’ 16-page settlement letter just before 5pm yesterday. In an accompanying press release, Shapps’ department claimed the settlement “matches the Mayor’s own pre-pandemic spending plans”.
They said, “It will ensure the network is not only protected against potential lost revenue caused by the uncertainty of post-pandemic demand but will also enable the delivery of a number of projects set to revolutionise travel across London.”
Specific upgrades include supporting the long-awaited repair of Hammersmith Bridge, the extension of the Northern Line and improvements to Elephant and Castle Station.
And the Tory government is continuing with its policy of encouraging more walking, running, cycling and scooting over motor vehicles.
“The landmark deal will dedicate £80million every year to active travel schemes, expanding walking and cycling infrastructure which will reduce congestion and pollution across the capital.”
Shapps said, “This deal more than delivers for Londoners.” And after announcing his archly-political scheme, using the global pandemic to impose measures on the capital’s democratically-elected Mayor, Michael Green even had the bare-faced front to say, “Now is the time to put politics to one side and get on with the job.”
Without yesterday’s settlement, Londoners had been facing cuts to one-fifth of the capital’s bus routes, with 16 routes facing the axe which will have caused “disproportionate impact… on the poorest Londoners”, according to the Green Party’s Sian Berry, the London Assembly Member who chairs its transport committee.
“One-third of all bus journeys are made by people in households earning less than £20,000 per year. We are also concerned about the disproportionate impact of the proposals on disabled Londoners.”
Geoff Hobbs, TfL’s director of public transport service planning, said last week, “The pandemic has had a devastating impact on TfL’s finances, requiring government support to keep public transport in London operating.
“The government set a number of conditions before it would provide emergency funding, including reducing the extent of our bus network.”
It appears clear now that Shapps used the leverage of axing London’s bus routes and increasing fares by 14per cent, to £1.90 from £1.65, to continue the Tories’ assault on TfL’s staff’s working conditions and reducing the workforce with pension cuts and potentially dangerous driverless Tubes.
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