Westminster Council has expressed “deep concern” after Transport for London (TfL) announced it was planning a raft of bus cuts following the government’s refusal to offer the public body long-term backing.
“I am deeply concerned that the government’s failure to properly fund Transport for London while we recover from the pandemic may have a real impact on our vital bus network,” said council leader Adam Hug.
“Buses are a transport lifeline for so many, particularly during this unprecedented squeeze on the cost of living.”
Hug’s concerns were echoed by Centre for London’s chief executive Nick Bowes, who said: “Today’s announcement will have big ramifications for Londoners that rely on public transport to study, work or meet friends, and particularly low income Londoners.
“Cutting services could also provoke a downward spiral in usage, returning London’s buses to the bad old days before the improvements over the past two decades.”
TfL is required to achieve £400m in savings and reduce the bus network by 4 per cent by financial year 24/25 as part of the conditions set in a series of government bailouts required to refill the network’s post-pandemic coffers.
A six-week consultation on the withdrawal or alteration of some 78 of the current 620 bus routes was published today.
Routes affected include the 4, 16, 72, 74 and 78.
Despite a sustained recovery, bus ridership numbers continue to be significantly below pre-pandemic levels.
Government-imposed lockdowns hit TfL’s finances hard, as the network is unusually reliant for a global city transport system on fare revenues, as opposed to grants from central government.
“No one wants to see reductions to our bus network, but TfL is having to consider these changes because of the savings demanded by the government as part of the emergency funding deals during the pandemic,” commented Seb Dance, deputy mayor for transport.
“Routes changed are ones where there are very similar existing services or where passengers would make use of the Mayor’s ‘Hopper’ fare to reach their destination.”
London mayor Sadiq Khan urged people to sign a Labour petition to stop the cuts and participate in the consultation.
“As the son of a bus driver, this is personal,” he tweeted. “I’ve resisted these cuts from the start, but the Tories are the ones holding the purse strings.
“They’re requiring service cuts by not giving us adequate funding, and there could be even worse to come without a fair funding deal.”
The £200m backing is set to expire on 24 June and if parties don’t reach a new agreement, TfL will be forced to cut up to 20 per cent of buses as part of its ‘managed decline’ scenario.
“If TfL is to avoid further cuts which would damage our city’s economic recovery from this pandemic, the government must do the right thing and come forward with a long term funding deal to support the capital’s public transport – as governments of almost all other major global cities do,” Dance added.
The decision was lambasted by the Labour’s London assembly, who said buses were “at the heartbeat of our transport network.”
“No one wants to see a reduction in services,” said the assembly’s transport spokesperson Elly Baker.
“I would encourage all Londoners to take part in the consultation to make sure your voice is heard on this vitally important issue”.
The funding has been at the centre of heated debated between City Hall and Westminster for the last few months.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps recently said that TfL should not expect another government bailout after 24 June, while London mayor complained about negotiations “going very slowly.”