Boris Johnson has said that driverless Tube trains should be a condition of any future government bailout of Transport for London (TfL).
The government gave TfL a £1.6bn support package in May following a slump in revenue as the coronavirus lockdown prevented commuters from using the service. The funding is due to expire in September.
Speaking to journalists on a visit to Goole in Yorkshire today, the Prime Minister revived an argument he first set out as mayor of London, urging TfL to reduce its reliance on human drivers.
“You can run these trains without the need for somebody to be sitting in the driver’s cab the whole time,” the PM said.
“So what I will be saying to the London transport authority is let’s take advantage of this technological leap forward — let’s not be the prisoners of the unions anymore.
“Let’s go to driverless trains, and let’s make that a condition of the funding settlement for Transport for London this autumn.”
Johnson added that driverless trains were the “way forward” for the country, and that they would be key to boosting the UK’s ailing economy.
Johnson first pledged to introduce driverless trains in 2014 during his second term as mayor of London. The New Tube for London (NTFL) set out plans for 250 new driverless Tube cabs in a bid to increase capacity by up to 60 per cent by 2025.
Johnson planned to roll out the NTFL on the Piccadilly Line in the early 2020s, with the full range of new trains set to follow between 2024 and 2033.
However, Johnson’s plans lost pace after backlash from unions, who claimed the rollout of driverless trains would cause wide-spread job cuts.
RMT and Aslef, two unions that represent London’s Tube drivers, both threatened strike action over the announcement of driverless trains. An RMT spokesman described the idea of automation as a “lethal and ill-conceived” one that would lead to “industrial action indefinitely”.
Commenting on Johnson’s remarks earlier today, RMT senior assistant general secretary Mick Lynch said: “It is outrageous for Boris Johnson to wheel out the dangerous nonsense of driverless trains as a condition of the emergency Covid-19 funding of Transport for London.
“This is the sort of cheap political stunt that was a hallmark of his time as mayor and we would have hoped he would have grown up by now.”
Lynch added: “Transport services don’t need this kind of political grandstanding to the Tory right — they need security of funding, services and jobs. The Prime Minister needs to cut out this sort of garbage and get a grip of the serious challenges facing the transport sector as the lockdown eases.”