Transport for London could be nationalised

The new entrance and southern ticket hall at London Victoria undergoes a few final checks and prepares to welcome customers as it opens to the public.

UK government bail-outs for Transport for London could soon come to an abrupt end, with the entire integrated transit network taken into public ownership. That’s the stark possibility as the capital’s commuter network continues to make significant losses, and the national government in Westminster grows more reluctant to fund its neighbour at the mayor’s office on the opposite bank of the Thames.

Despite high-profile development works, including Overground extensions to Barking Riverside, and Underground extensions to Battersea Power Station, London’s transit network continues to make significant losses, in the wake of dramatic passenger number reductions following the pandemic. Now, the administration of London’s entire passenger transport network could be taken into public ownership, if the UK government decides to stop making bail out payments to the local authorities in the capital.

Capped fares and universal travel passes

TfL (Transport for London) has been living, hand to mouth, for almost two years, ever since the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, requested a package of emergency funding, similar to that which helped keep the national passenger train operators afloat during government imposed lockdowns and mandated travel bans.

For many years, London has enjoyed a high-level of integrated and subsidised public transport. It has been the envy of many urban communities around the UK, with pioneering initiatives like capped fares and universal travel passes. However, that has only been sustainable on the back of high ridership and economic support from the local authority. The pandemic has been a huge setback for both and now TfL is teetering on the brink of a bankruptcy that may well see its operations fall into the direct administration of the UK government. In effect, TfL would be nationalised.

Struggling to catch up with demand

Late evening travellers attempting to board Underground trains at South Kensington, as concert goers decant from the Royal Albert Hall, may argue otherwise, but TfL train ridership still lags behind pre-pandemic levels. High-profile and nationally important projects, like the hugely costly Elizabeth Line though Central London, continue to make the headlines – and carry high numbers of passengers.

Metro services in London are subject to all manner of flows – such as the traffic generated by the museum quarter at South Kensington (TfL Flickr)

However, the sleek purple-liveried trains, and those serving Barking and Battersea were all in development long before Covid struck. It’s unclear what the overall effects have been, or continue to be, on transport project developments in the future. What is clear is that the funding for anything as ambitious in the near future is something of a pipe-dream and could leave London struggling to catch up with increasing demand for decades to come.

Hipsters and traders say no to commuting

TfL insiders claim that a further funding deal (a fifth settlement in two years) is close to being agreed with Westminster. There are however significant strings attached – not least that TfL will be required to ‘break even’, on day to day operating costs, by March of 2023. That seems less of a string and more of a rope around the neck. With precious little room for manoeuvre, TfL’s only option is to grow its market, and recover from the pandemic hangover.

However, the hipsters of Hoxton and the financial traders of Twickenham may be more inclined to work from home, rather than brave the face pressed up to face commute into the office, replacing that lost demand is a tall order. No end of Albert Hall concerts will take up the slack from suppressed peak-hours commuter demand. In future, TfL could be playing to a different tune – one conducted from Westminster, not from City Hall.

Further reading:

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is UK correspondent for RailTech.com and Railfreight.com

4 comments op “Transport for London could be nationalised”

Mathew Hull|17.08.22|11:55

A throwaway article with no real research put into it. Just repeats the same tired government attacks.

Tamlyn Kemp|17.08.22|22:57

Your headline writer needs to know that this is literally the opposite of Nationalisation. It’s pPivatisation.

Alan Cottage|19.08.22|17:13

“London has enjoyed a high-level of integrated and subsidised public transport” It used to until the Conservative government under David Cameron removed those subsidies once the Conservative incumbent was unelected from the Mayors office.

Josh Williams|19.08.22|19:16

London Transport has been publicly run and managed since 1933 so nationalisation is the wrong term here. What you mean is a coup by the Government to punish London for imagined transgressions

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