The fare hike is a condition of TfL’s government bailout.
Falling ridership during the pandemic has put TfL’s finances in dire straits, and unfortunately it’ll be Londoners who’ll have to bear some of the costs. Increased fares for Tubes and buses have been forecast for a while – despite being forestalled for two months – and it’s now been confirmed exactly what these fare hikes will look like. Overall, bus and Tube fare rises will rise by 2.6% (slightly above inflation) on March 1, 2021, but the cost won’t be spread evenly across all areas.
For instance, one of the smallest rises will affect the Hopper fare, which allows Londoners unlimited journeys on buses and trams within a one hour period. Currently, the cost of the Hopper fare is £1.50 – on March 1, that will rise to £1.55, the smallest possible rise. In a bid to promote walking and cycling as central to London’s recovery from the pandemic, the Santander Cycle scheme, which saw its best ever year in 2020, won’t see a fare increase at all.
As for the Tube… that’s where things get a little bit more complicated. Some fares – those for Tube, DLR, and rail services within a single fare zone – will remain at the same level, with the thinking being that the cheaper it is to move around the highlights and tourist traps of Zone 1, the more time people are likely to spend shopping, eating, visiting, and generally pumping money into London’s economic recovery. It also encourages local travel for those in outer areas, as City Hall is keen “ensure that the post-pandemic recovery is not car-led.”
However, those who move through multiple zones on their Tube journeys will see a slight price rise, of around 3% for a journey from Zones 1-3, for instance. The limits on daily pay-as-you-go fares – which caps travel spending beyond a certain price point – are expected to rise by around 10-20p. Even bigger price hikes are expected for those who buy Tube tickets with cash (as TfL is keen to fully phase it out as a payment method), and anyone using the Emirates Air Line, as the Dangleway is predicted to see price hikes of 10%. Poor thing.
im still social distancing
as i ever was 🙁
— EmirateDangleway (@Dangleway) April 4, 2020
It’s worth noting that a fare hike was widely expected anyway; Khan made promises to freeze Tube and bus fares during his first term and has done so for the past five years – but the piper has to be paid at some point, especially given that fares had risen 42% in the period 2008-2016.
City Hall is keen to stress, however, that “these increases are still significantly below what any cumulative increase would have been had fares risen in line with inflation over the last five years.” Despite the government-mandated increases, Khan was able to extract some concessions, including sidestepping an even steeper fare hike and Congestion Charging Zone on the North and South Circular, whilst also keeping the vital free travel scheme for under-18s.
TfL is heavily reliant on transport fares for the financial health of the network, which means that lockdowns, coupled with current ridership levels well below pre-pandemic numbers, have put the organisation’s budget in bad shape. A £1.6 billion stopgap fund in May kept the network running through the leanest days of the spring lockdown, whilst a separate, larger bailout was given to get the system going through to spring 2021 – the point at which the fare increases come in. City Hall’s report asks for “continued, longer-term support” from central government, in order to support jobs, run services, and support the push towards sustainable travel.
Meanwhile, TfL has also published its Financial Sustainability Plan, charting how the organisation plans to keep services funded and running into the future. These include changes to service levels (for instance, delaying the reopening of the Night Tube, Night Overground, and Waterloo & City line until the pandemic subsides, and reducing frequency on some under-used Central London bus routes), future fare rises (although the report also notes this would “reduce ridership and the attractiveness of public transport”), and the curious prospect of extending Zone 1 to Canary Wharf, which would “reflect change in London geography”, and generate around £25 million in extra revenue from 2021/22 onwards.
If TfL are crowdsourcing ways to raise money for the network, maybe they can take on board these suggestions to improve the Tube?
Also published on Medium.