Evening Standard Comment: TfL needs a long-term financial settlement

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A so-called ‘temporary’ 30% increase in the fee for driving into central London will be made permanent under Transport for London plans (Philip Toscano/PA) (PA Archive)
A so-called ‘temporary’ 30% increase in the fee for driving into central London will be made permanent under Transport for London plans (Philip Toscano/PA) (PA Archive)

Few things are as permanent as a temporary tax increase. Indeed income tax, introduced in 1799 by William Pitt the Younger as a makeshift measure to finance the Napoleonic Wars, is still very much around today.

The announcement by Mayor Sadiq Khan to keep the £15 congestion — originally meant to revert to £11.50 — is in this vein. In addition, the charge will remain in place over weekends, albeit scaled back to between midday and 6pm.

The latter, we hope, will serve as a boost to London’s nighttime economy and the city’s wider recovery.

Ultimately, however, this is an issue that redounds to money. Transport for London still faces a £500 million funding gap for the year despite showing “progress” towards financial sustainability, according to its revised budget.

What TfL needs, as its commissioner Andy Byford and this newspaper have consistently called for, is a long-term financial settlement. This would allow it to plan for the future and make improvements.

Otherwise, we risk a vicious cycle in which reduced ridership drives diminished investment, which leads to a less reliable transport network, which further dissuades people from using it.

Allowing London’s transport network to atrophy will not help level-up the North. London and the UK must grow together. Not only because the capital is the engine of the economy, but because the goods we need, such as electric buses, can be built across the UK.

The pandemic has accelerated trends around flexible working, with a knock-on effect on TfL’s finances. At present, it is disproportionately reliant on fares income, which remain 40 to 45 per cent below pre-pandemic levels.

To lock in the recovery, TfL needs to reach a long-term settlement for the benefit not just of Londoners, but the country.

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