LU announced yesterday that there were 1 million fewer tube passengers in January than in the same month last year, as a result of job cuts reducing commuter travel. The resultant drop in fares income could mean that part of the much-needed upgrade programme will be scrapped - or at least delayed - unless the government steps in.
The Tube is already struggling with the effects of the recession on its notoriously complex and opaque PPP contracts. When MT telephoned the network’s managing body Transport for London to find out more, the only person who could help turned out to be in a day-long budget meeting…
This latest blow could leave the system facing a financial black hole of up to £5bn. The recently announced departure of LU’s MD Tim O’Toole’s – a man who will be very hard to replace – won’t help matters either.
London Mayor Boris Johnson will probably be suffering renewed anxiety, compounded by last night’s Dispatches programme entitled The Trouble with Boris – of which entertainment newswire Digital Spy said: Looks like Dispatches just said ‘Who hates Boris as Mayor?’ and filmed the results. It also broadcast for the first time Johnson’s 1990 conversation with Darius Guppy in which they discuss getting a journalist beaten up. Hmmm.
The financial bad news couldn’t have come at a worse time for him. London Underground’s planned budget apparently relies on a 7.4 per cent increase in fare income this year as well a 3.5 per cent increase in passenger journeys - so far, not so good. It looks like Johnson will have to raise fares way above inflation in order to stay on track, although his spokesperson was, unsurprisingly, quoted as saying otherwise: The mayor’s commitment to delivering value for money is even more critical now. The operational cost review being undertaken by TfL aims to save money as well as ensure that services remain unaffected.
But never mind the spin - if City Hall can’t negotiate with the Department for Transport, it seems likely services will be affected. The Mayor blames funding problems on the government-imposed PPP scheme and has said a recent £40bn funding settlement is insufficient to finance the upgrade.
The planned work is crucial in helping to reduce overcrowding and the crippling engineering delays and line closures which long-suffering Londoners are regularly subjected to. Without extra funding, upgrades to some of the capital’s worst lines are clearly going to be pushed back. So residents and vistors alike will have to resign themselves to endless signal failures, weekend closures and 40° temperatures in carriages if the sun ever comes out again.