London’s Tubes, trains, buses and cycle routes power our city.
They are — most of the time — safe, clean and easy to use. They have also been getting a lot better, too — the arrival of the amazing Overground, low-pollution buses, secure cycle lanes and, very late but on its way, Crossrail.
This system is a huge advantage. Most big world cities have nothing as good. But it is all under threat.
In normal times, travellers pay about three quarters of Transport for London’s costs and things such as the congestion charge add more. It’s not a drain on national resources, even though it supports an economy which pays a large part of Britain’s taxes. But this time isn’t normal.
Passenger numbers have collapsed, while costs haven’t. Unless the Government bails it out, our transport system will start unravelling.
Buses will be less frequent. Tubes will get older. Stations will be dirtier; some will shut. Fares will be higher; car use will go up and so will air pollution. We’ll go back to miserable decline which seemed normal in the Seventies and Eighties.
That would be a catastrophe not just for London but for Britain. So there must be a new bailout.
Talks are happening now, to keep the system running after the first emergency injection of cash agreed earlier this year runs out. But London’s transport network can’t live on short-term rescues. The deal should be long-term — five years — so that TfL can plan. In return for the money there should be clear asks.
The most vital thing is to enforce mask-wearing on the Tube. We need to protect workers who are keeping our city open. Absolute urgency is needed to act against people not wearing masks — most of us wear them but those few who don’t get away with it and are endangering everyone else.
There needs to be enforcement — including by transport police. The funding deal should include certainty on Crossrail, to get the job done so the route opens next year not later.
It also should ask TfL to address its high, heavily-unionised costs on the Tube. Most of all, it should get London through and keep our city’s brilliant transport system open, safe and running for the recovery.