London’s Transportation Funding Facing a Squeeze
London’s transport network is about to feel the impact of spending cuts for the first time in 15 years.
By the end of the decade, Transport for London — the organisation formed in 2000 that runs the Underground, train services, buses and road maintenance, as well as regulating taxis — is to lose £700m-a-year from its government funding. Sadiq Khan, the Labour frontrunner to win the mayoral election on May 5, is also saying he would freeze fares.
Professor Tony Travers, an expert on London at the London School of Economics says that in the 1980s and 1990s, the capital’s transport system was “threadbare — antique trains, some equipment you’d expect to see in the Science Museum”.
Thanks to billions of pounds of investment, that is no longer the case. But despite £19bn spent on improvements during the past decade, the network still struggles.
Over-crowding at rush hour is common, and minor faults and delays can make it much worse. Piccadilly line drivers went on strike this week over problems with the 43-year-old trains on the line. The pressure is unlikely to abate: the capital’s population is forecast to grow by a quarter in the next 25 years.
The network is also one of the most expensive in the world: a monthly pass covering inner London is £120, 133 per cent more than the equivalent in Paris, 24 per cent more than in Tokyo and 77 per cent more than in New York, according to a City Hall report.
However, TfL also receives less subsidy than other cities and the government has said it will phase out taxpayer support for its day-to-day operations entirely.
Stephen Joseph of the Campaign for Better Transport says that “the two big losers” from funding cuts will be the staffing costs of big investment schemes and bus services, since these are heavily subsidised.
“Almost nobody anywhere in the world runs a sizeable public transport network without [subsidies],” he adds.
Prof Travers says: “The London Underground is an old, money-eating system, you have to spend a lot of money simply to stop it getting worse.”