The return of working from home means TfL is even more dependent on government help to keep services running, its finance chief has admitted.
TfL’s current bail-out expires on Saturday and it is facing “significantly greater risk” in 2022-23 after passenger numbers began to flatline at about 69 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in the middle of November, prior to the arrival of the Omicron variant.
Simon Kilonback, TfL’s chief financial officer, said a bad winter, with high levels of Covid, could cost it £100 million in lost takings.
He said: “That is excluding the potential working from home [implications] and means we need the fares mechanism to continue beyond December 11.”
The Government has offered to continue the terms of TfL’s current bailout until the end of March, meaning it will plug the gap in lost fares — which was expected to amount to about £300 million, prior to the working from home announcement last night.
TfL does not expect passenger numbers to return to normal on the Tube this decade and predicts only 84 per cent of 2019 levels by 2024/25.
New details emerged today of the options considered by TfL in a bid to generate between £500 million and £1 billion a year in extra income from 2023, as required by the Government.
These included introducing a tax or levy on online deliveries, which would address a major new cause of road congestion while helping to protect high street shops.
However the option was rejected by the Government and TfL is no longer considering it in detail.
It is understood that imposing a levy on customers shopping online would have required Parliament to pass new laws – but the Mayor does have the power to impose charges on delivery vehicles.
Mr Kilonback told the TfL board that targeting online deliveries appeared a “good idea” because delivery vans were “causing huge, massive congestion in London and replacing face-to-face transactions and therefore public transport trips”.
Imposing a Greater London boundary charge - on motorists entering the capital – was also ruled out by the Government.
TfL has been encouraged by the Government to consider toughening the congestion charge or ultra low emission zone rules, or moving to a system of pay-per-mile road pricing.
However, by law, this can only be done to tackle congestion or pollution, not simply to generate funds.
Mr Kilonback said: “What we are not allowed to do is design schemes that are simply for the purpose of creating revenue.”
Fares are already expected to rise by about five per cent in January and council tax increases have been considered, though these cannot normally exceed 10 per cent without a referendum being held.
TfL commissioner Andy Byford said TfL is facing a “Domesday scenario” of being forced to implement huge cuts to the bus and Tube network if it cannot secure long-term Government investment funds.
Heidi Alexander, the deputy mayor for transport, writing on the Evening Standard website today, accused Ministers of “punishing Londoners” who obeyed the first work at home rule during lockdown last year.
She said: “Regrettably, this attack on London and on Londoners shows no signs of ending, as the Government once again appears to be trying to hold our city to ransom by refusing to provide our transport network with the funding it needs.”