By Andrew Bosi
Featured in the FTL Newsletter, May 2022
When our last newsletter went to press, TfL and the DafT were working towards a deadline of February 4th by which time a long term agreement would supposedly be announced. Some days later, a new deadline of February 18th was declared, and a few days after that one had passed, the ‘temporary’ agreement was further extended to June, recognizing that from late March to May 5th there would be local election campaigns which impose a period of ‘purdah’ during which decisions which are of a political nature cannot be made.
The Department continues to demand conditions which over-ride the powers given to the Mayor. This comes at a time when the government’s levelling up agenda is giving the North and Midlands a Mayor with the same powers as the Mayor of London, but is silent on the cuts to bus services which many have experienced from the start of the new financial year, when Covid related subsidies came to an end.
At a time when the cost of living is acknowledged as one of the major issues which ought to relegate ‘Partygate’ to the inside pages, the government has imposed a 3.8 per cent increase in National fares and a 4.8 per cent increase in London, based on formulae from the Retail Price Index (RPI) at its July 2021 level. As we approach July 2022, the RPI is already running at 9 per cent (the March figure) and most predictions are that it will continue to rise over the next four months. There was allegedly some scope left to the Mayor as to how the increase was applied, but if so he has done a complete U-turn on his previous policy of protecting the least well-off and maximizing use of public transport by freezing fares. The increase has been loaded onto bus fares and thus on the people least able to pay.
The Mayor has thus missed the opportunity to correct the distortion in the fare structure introduced by his predecessor. Mayor Johnson complained that his predecessor had been over-focused on central London, but in a crass bid to outflank George Osborne, Johnson reduced zone 1 peak fares, while those in outer London using a daily travelcard (or daily price cap) had to pay for zone 1 even if they did not need it – the zone 2-6 card or cap having been abolished.
The purdah period means we are hearing little about progress, or its lack, towards a June agreement. It is supposed to address funding for capital programmes – only those already committed have been proceeding, so we have the Northern line extension, we will have the new Piccadilly trains, but not the signalling that would optimize their use, and not the replacement stock for the Bakerloo line trains, which are so old as to still have comfortable seats. However, we should at last know by then the date at which the central section of the Elizabeth line will open and start to generate income instead of consuming it. There is still a shortfall in the funding needed to complete the project: there is still a shortfall in funding the repair of Hammersmith Bridge.
Jon Cruddas has continued to pursue the need for a station at Beam Park without which planning permission for hundreds of the houses everyone says must be built no longer exists. He reports a positive meeting and it appears that this item is on the agenda for the continuing discussions between TfL and the DafT.
Having the election out of the way should also clear the air. The pessimistic assessment is that if the Tories do better than expected they will take that as an endorsement for the policy of taking powers from the Mayor; if they do badly they will wash their hands of London as a lost cause. On the other hand, if Parliament finally accepts the need to uphold the Ministerial code, a fresh face at the head of government would clear the air in a more positive vein.