Monday 28 September 2020 5:49 pm

Sadiq Khan warns of return to 'bad old days' without new TfL bailout

Sadiq Khan has warned that Transport for London (TfL) will return to the “bad old days” of crumbling infrastructure and unreliable services if the government does not provide it with a second bailout.

City Hall officials are currently in negotiations with government over a new financial support package for the transport operator, which has had its finances hammered by the coronavirus pandemic.

An initial £1.6bn bailout deal was agreed in May, but is due to run out on 17 October.

TfL has previously said that it will require nearly £5bn over the next 18 months in order to stabilise its financial position.

Of this, £2bn will be required for the second half of this year, with a further £2.9bn required in the following financial year.

Without such funding, Khan warned that the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic would stall, with TfL unable to run safe, reliable, and frequent transport services that enable social distancing.

In addition, he said that planned upgrades to services such as the Piccadilly and Bakerloo lines would have to be shelved, as would investments into projects such as extending the DLR to Thamesmead. 

“The choice is stark”, Khan said: “A safe and effective transport network that continues to deliver for Londoners and support jobs in the capital and across the UK, or a Government-led spiral of disinvestment that sees vital infrastructure age and fail.

“I remember what it was like 20 years ago before the sustained investment we’ve seen over the last two decades – crumbling Tube lines, unreliable services, old-fashioned ticketing system and lack of coordination. We must not return to the bad old days.”

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At the peak of the pandemic, TfL’s passenger numbers were down over 90 per cent. Although numbers had started to creep up again as lockdown restrictions were eased, the number of people on the Tube is still lagging at 35 per cent. 

TfL is dependent on fares for 70 per cent of its revenues, having had its government operating grant removed in 2018. This compares to 38 per cent in New York and 47 per cent in Madrid’s transport system.

Tory London Assembly member Keith Prince accused Khan of playing political games with his comments.

“Sadiq Khan has some brass neck to warn about underinvestment if TfL isn’t bailed out again given his record.

On the Mayor’s watch, 21 major transport upgrades have been delayed or cancelled due to Khan’s financial incompetence. That’s not to mention Khan’s failure to deliver Crossrail which has been delayed yet again. 

“If the Mayor is serious about securing another bailout for TfL, Khan must work constructively with the Government to get TfL’s finances back on track.

“Londoners are sick of Khan’s political press releases which do nothing to deliver for our city. Khan’s TfL games are becoming predictable; issue a shocking warning, agree a deal, and blame everything in it on the Government.”

A DfT spokesperson said: “The Government is engaging with Transport for London and the Mayor on the impacts of Covid-19 on TfL’s finances. These discussions are ongoing and will ensure London has a safe, reliable network while delivering a fair deal to taxpayers.

“We would rather avoid negotiating through the media, so it would not be appropriate to disclose further details at this stage.”