The bailout has been handed out with strings attached.
We’ve all been staring down a tough situation for the past couple of months, but for TfL it’s been very much a perfect storm of issues. Falling passenger numbers due to stay at home orders have blown a hole in the operating budget, and now an increase in services and riders has the potential to put more people at risk, given that the UK’s coronavirus outbreak isn’t yet under control. With funds rapidly running out, the immediate running costs of TfL have been saved by a £1.6 billion government bailout – but Londoners are also likely to be sharing the burden before long.
The conditions of the bailout will be seen as soon as Monday, when the congestion charge will return, weeks earlier than originally planned. On June 22, the charge will increase from £11.50 a day to £15 a day, and it’ll be enforced seven days a week instead of just weekdays. Meanwhile, the ULEZ (ultra-low emission zone) charge is back on Monday too, although there are no plans to increase it at present. It’s good for new plans to encourage more cycling across the capital, but for car users its likely to be an unhappy sting in the tail.
A return to normal levels of Tube and bus services are also on the cards, which tacks with recently-released TfL plans to increase services on. As ianVisits notes, structural changes will see a long-term review of TfL finances, and representatives for the Department of Transportation have been granted two seats on TfL’s board – effectively giving the UK government more of a voice in TfL discussions.
There’s one final condition, however, and it’s the one which will fall most heavily on Londoners. Speaking at yesterday’s government briefing, transport secretary Grant Shapps warned that the financial burden of the bailout wouldn’t fall on people outside of London, and that TfL fares will have to rise in order to pay for the money given – with an ongoing four-year fare freeze instigated by Sadiq Khan soon to come to an end. Meanwhile, the government has also suspended Freedom Passes for disabled and elderly passengers at peak times.
Whilst welcoming the money as a balm for the “catastrophic impact” the coronavirus outbreak has had upon TfL’s finances, Sadiq Khan is not happy with the strings attached to the bailout. In a statement earlier today, the Mayor said that this was “the only deal the Government put on the table”, and one which he believes is “making ordinary Londoners pay the cost for doing the right thing on Covid-19.” He concluded by reiterating a common refrain: to use public transport as little as possible, walk and cycle as much as you can, and wear face masks when travelling.
Also published on Medium.