The Labour leader of Lambeth Council, Jack Hopkins, has hit out at Boris Johnson’s Conservative government for demanding that TfL must raise fares above inflation and cut free travel for under-18s as part of its funding package to keep the transport operator running.
Cllr Hopkins said it was ‘deeply unfair’ for the Tory Government to seek to balance TfL’s books on the backs of London’s commuters after a 90 per cent fall in fares revenue during the coronavirus crisis saw London’s transport operator need Government financial support.
The local Labour leader accused the Conservatives of ‘playing political games’ by forcing TfL to hike fares’, while bailing out the private rail and bus companies with no strings attached.
The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has also criticised the Government, saying that Londoners have been ‘made to pay a very high price’ for following the Government’s own advice and avoiding travel on public transport as part of efforts to counter the spread of COVID-19.
TfL’s finances have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic with the number of Londoners using the Tube down by 95 per cent compared to this time last year and the number of bus passengers also dropping by 85 per cent.
TfL relies on income from fares to cover the cost of running its services after the last Tory Government cut the transport authority’s £700m annual grant in its entirety, leaving London as the only major city in Western Europe not to receive direct Government funding to run day to day transport services.
Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, the Mayor had made huge progress to put TfL’s finances on a sustainable footing, reducing the organisation’s operating deficit by 71 per cent and increasing cash reserves by 16 per cent, all while delivering his promise to freeze TfL fares for four years.
However, the coronavirus outbreak has now blown a huge hole in TfL’s finances after Londoners were asked to stay at home and avoid using public transport to limit the spread of the virus.
This has led to both Cllr Hopkins and Sadiq Khan accusing the Government of ‘punishing Londoners for doing the right thing’ after the Government made its financial support for TfL conditional on above inflation fare rises from next year.
As part of the deal to keep TfL operating, the Government also insisted that it immediately bring back the congestion charge and ULEZ and bring forward proposals to widen the scope and levels of these charges.
The Tory Government has also insisted that TfL must suspend free travel for Freedom Pass and 60 plus card holders during peak times, and for under 18s all the time. Only after lobbying from TfL did the Government agree that this will not apply to disabled Freedom Pass holders.
The Labour leader of Lambeth Council, Jack Hopkins, said:
“It is clear for all to see that the Government’s funding package for TfL is deeply unfair and that Londoners are being punished for doing the right thing and staying at home during this pandemic.
“Rather than working to find a sensible funding arrangement, the Tories have chosen to balance TfL’s books on the backs of hardworking Londoners.
“This is shameful behaviour and a kick in the teeth for the residents of Lambeth will now face higher fares and charges for their daily commute simply because the Tory Government is intent on playing political games.
“I would urge the Government to abandon its highly partisan approach and work to find a new funding mechanism for TfL that is about helping London’s hard-pressed commuters, rather than harming them.”
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said:
“The only reason TfL is now in financial difficulties, just like every transport operator around the country, is because our fares income has fallen by 90 per cent during lockdown.
“This meant TfL had no alternative but to ask the Government for financial support and they have made Londoners pay a very high price for doing the right thing and staying at home by demanding an increase in the Congestion Charge and an above-inflation fares rise.
“I want to be clear – this is not the deal I wanted, but the one that is being imposed on our city by the most anti-London government in living memory.
“This Tory Government has agreed similar funding packages for every other transport authority in the UK – but they have not insisted on punishing their citizens in the same way they have Londoners.”