Transport for London finance fears over Boris Johnson's 'work from home' plea

Boris Johnson’s plea for people to “work from home if they can” to curb the second wave of Covid will blight Transport for London’s efforts to restore its finances, it is feared.

TfL saw its income collapse by 90 per cent during the first stage of the pandemic, when Londoners were told to avoid public transport – requiring a £1.6bn bail-out from the Government to keep buses and the Tube running.

Mayor Sadiq Khan is now seeking £4.7bn more – £1.8bn to keep services going until the end of next March, and a further £2.9 billion for the 2021/22 financial year.

TfL’s finances had been recovering more quickly than expected, with combined income from Tube, bus and rail fares plus the congestion charge since April being £35m higher than hoped – though overall passenger journeys remain “well down” on last year, equivalent to £45m less a week.

TfL’s finance chief Simon Kilonback, in a report to tomorrow’s TfL finance committee, said that the “outlook for the year remains uncertain” due to the significant number of employees not returning to their offices, the rule of six and the 10pm curfew.

He said the “recent tightening of restrictions on food and hospitality sector, coupled with updated guidance to work from home if possible, make recovery this year increasingly unlikely”.

Latest passenger numbers show bus and Tube journeys have fluctuated daily since the Prime Minister’s announcement a week ago.

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Yesterday, there were 732,000 Tube journeys in the morning peak, down three per cent on the Monday a week earlier, equal to 32 per cent of normal demand.

There were 964,000 bus journeys in yesterday’s morning peak, down one per cent on the same day last week, and equal to 55 per cent of normal demand.

Heidi Alexander, the deputy mayor for transport, said that TfL’s daily fares income had fallen from £13m a day a year ago to £5m a day.

The Mayor is hopeful of an announcement from the Department for Transport on TfL’s long-term funding this week. Because 72 per cent of TfL’s budget is from fares income, many projects are in jeopardy.

TfL expects social distancing rules – which limit the number of people who can board a bus – to continue until next May, by when it is hoped a vaccine will be in production.

Businesses and passenger groups today urged the Government to look sympathetically on TfL’s needs, in light of the “work from home” rule.

Emma Gibson, director of London TravelWatch, said: “TfL’s budget planning included a winter second Covid wave but also assumes that fares income will be back up to 80 per cent by the end of next year.

“The Prime Minister’s encouragement to go back to working at home has so far resulted in a small dip in demand but it is obvious that there is more uncertainty ahead about how much TfL can raise from fares income. Having the money to keep the Tube and buses running at their current level is not just crucial for London’s recovery but also to allow Londoners to able to use public transport in a socially distanced way.”

But Tory mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey said: “Even before Covid hit, TfL passenger hours were down and debt was up. Over 500 staff were paid £100,000. So instead of demanding bailout after bailout, Sadiq Khan should start managing TfL efficiently.”

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