Netflix, Deliveroo and terrorism blamed for huge dip in Tube passenger numbers

May Bulman
Apart from a slight dip in passenger numbers following the financial crash in 2008, the figures mark the first decrease in passenger numbers in more than two decades: Reuters

The number of people using the London Underground has dropped for the first time in more than 20 years as recent terror attacks in the capital deter passengers from making trips on the Tube.

Growing use of Netflix and Deliveroo are also believed to have prompted the decline in Tube passengers, as people increasingly get food delivered and watch films at home rather than travelling out to restaurants and cinemas.

Transport for London (TfL) figures show the number of people using the Underground has dropped by 2 per cent in the year to November 2017, amounting to four million fewer people travelling on the Tube.

Apart from a slight dip in passenger numbers following the financial crash in 2008, the drop in numbers marks the first decrease in more than two decades, said TfL’s commissioner for transport, Mike Brown.

In the year to November 2017, 416.7 million people travelled on the London Underground, compared with 421.2 million the year before.

Passengers on trains coming into London have seen an even larger decrease. The number of people using Govia Thameslink Railway, South West Trains and Southeastern all fell by more than 5 per cent in April to June 2017/18, compared to the previous year, as their fares rose.

The passenger figures were discussed in a Budget and Performance Committee meeting on Wednesday, where TfL urged that despite the drop, the recently announced fare freeze on the Underground meant Tube passenger numbers had not declined as steeply as train passenger numbers.

They said terrorism fears had been a significant factor in the decline, with passenger numbers dropping in the immediate aftermath of the terror attacks that took place in the past year.

Lifestyle changes prompted by technological developments were also said to have had an impact.

Mr Brown said: “Over recent months there’s been an element of softening of Tube demand, which we haven’t seen for the last over 20 years apart from a small blip in 2008 with the financial crisis.

“There are some factors that we all faced this year that we did not foresee in terms of the demand on the Tube in London. Members will be very aware of the tragic terrorist events we had earlier in the year.

“After these events it was very clear quite immediately that people who were making discretionary journeys into London with their families in the evenings and weekends weren’t doing that in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist events that we saw.”

When pressed by the committee on whether there were any other possible reasons for the decrease in numbers, Mr Brown said: “It’s very difficult to be categorical as to the cause.

“The terrorist events were one thing; however, if you get a handful fewer journeys at Canary Wharf or Bank it’s a bit hard to determine the core reason for that. Is it an element of economic uncertainty? Is it a handful of jobs here or there that aren’t there any more?

“Or is it just that people are working from home more or adjusting their lifestyle with the onset of technology which we’re all very aware of?”

Valerie Shawcross CBE, deputy mayor for transport and deputy chair of TfL, said: “I think it is a complex mix of issues. If there isn’t the economic uncertainty, actually there are more options available to people now.

“It is quite interesting that it is the leisure-time traffic that’s particularly shown a reduction, because of course now there are options like Deliveroo food at home, Netflix instead of the cinema, so there are cheaper options available to people which don’t involve the journey.”

Mr Brown insisted that despite the fall in passenger numbers the fare freeze had been less severe than that on trains coming into and out of the capital.

He said: “There is increasing and very real evidence that the fare freeze on the Tube has meant the passenger decrease has been less material than on train operating companies serving London, where of course the full impact of government cuts and inflation has fallen more steeply.”

TfL has been required to absorb an average £700m per year cut in government funding over five years, with the general grant to support operating costs removed from 2018/19.

London will therefore become one of the only major cities in the world with a public transport and road network that doesn’t receive government subsidy to support operating costs.

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