When the nation entered the first lockdown in March last year, many Londoners put away their Oyster or travel card oblivious to just how long it would be before it would be used next. At the time, Government guidance was – and continues to be – to “work from home where possible”. Buses, trains and tubes, once a definitive part of the London commute, were suddenly almost entirely devoid of passengers.
The resulting and sustained dramatic reduction in passenger numbers had a damaging impact on the capital’s transport network. In the Square Mile, this was highlighted by the closure of the Waterloo & City line.
So I am delighted that the service, known as “The Drain”, finally reopened last week – bringing with it a welcome sense of normality. I had the pleasure of being on board one of the first trains to run alongside the Mayor of London, TfL officials and a small number of City workers. The early reopening of this line reconnects those based in Surrey and beyond with the Square Mile, marking a very exciting and promising moment in our recovery.
It is also an important milestone for TfL. The pandemic-induced drop in TfL income and impact on its budget is of significant concern for the very fact that, in many ways, the capital’s ecosystem relies on a world-leading transportation network. London’s workers, visitors and residents depend on it as they go about their business and leisure so the repercussions of losing or reducing this vital service should not be understated.
TfL recently revealed it had negotiated a further funding agreement with the Government which expires in mid-December. We welcome the assurance this settlement gives London’s commuters and the businesses – especially those that rely on commuter traffic for trade – but this deal only brings certainty until the end of 2021.
It is now absolutely essential that the Government and TfL deliver on the commitment to finding a sustainable, long-term solution. This is vital so that people and businesses across the capital can plan for the long-term future with confidence.
Over recent weeks, public transport passenger numbers have been climbing as Londoners return to their place of work (where they are unable to work from home) or for social engagements. The City is certainly getting noticeably busier as the weeks go on, and it is wonderful to have life and vibrancy back in the Square Mile. There is no escaping that the pandemic has accelerated the shift to flexible working patterns, but it is increasingly clear that the office is still very much a core element of business.
The City of London Corporation is absolutely ready to welcome more people back to the Square Mile as soon as Government guidance allows. I hope to see more commuters on the Tube and buses once additional information on when workers can return to offices is set out in the near term. In the meantime, Londoners should continue to follow Government advice as we move towards Step Four of the roadmap of the easing of restrictions.