The government wants to hike up transport fares in London way above inflation, increase council tax bills in the capital and force millions more Londoners to pay the Congestion Charge. This would effectively punish Londoners for doing the right thing by following the government’s own advice on using public transport.
As mayor, I simply will not accept these Tory proposals, which would hit Londoners with a triple whammy of higher costs – adding up to hundreds of pounds per year for those who live and drive in London – at a time when so many families are already struggling.
The Prime Minister lied, plain and simple, in the House of Commons this week when he said Transport for London (TfL) only needed emergency national funding now due to actions I had taken prior to the pandemic. The truth is that before the coronavirus I was fixing the financial mess at TfL that I’d inherited from Boris Johnson when he was mayor. Over the course of four years, I had reduced TfL’s deficit by 71% and increased cash reserves by 13%.
The sole cause of TfL’s financial problems is Covid-19 – and it’s easy to see why. Due to a deal struck between Boris Johnson and the then-Chancellor George Osborne in 2015, TfL is the only major transport network in Western Europe that doesn’t receive any direct government funding for day-to-day services. This means it is almost completely reliant on passenger fares to pay for the running of services.
During the national lockdown, we saw passenger numbers on public transport plummet by 95%. This hit revenues extremely hard. At the same time, we had to continue operating safe services for our key workers.
Rail companies across the country have also faced emergency funding issues due to a drop in passenger numbers during the pandemic. In every case, the Tory government has agreed to give these failing private train rail operators an 18-month blank-cheque funding deal – with no strings attached – so that they can continue to run a profit for their shareholders. Even though TfL provides a far better service than the private rail operators, the Tories are not offering the same deal for us. Instead, they are treating London differently – inflicting vindictive and draconian measures.
When the first round of temporary emergency funding for TfL was agreed in May, the Tories demanded an end to free travel for under 18s, an increase to the Congestion Charge and a fares hike in January. I said at the time that this deal was just a sticking plaster as it failed to address the dramatic fall in fares income due to Covid-19. We then asked the government for an 18-month deal and showed that TfL needed £2bn just for the next six months. The offer from the government was not for 18 months, like they have given the private rail operators, but £1bn for just six months – with punitive, long-term conditions for Londoners attached.
These conditions include extending the £15 Congestion Charge Zone to the North and South circular roads, which would cover four million more Londoners. The Tories have tried to lie brazenly about this, but the truth is spelled out in black and white in a letter from the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, on October 1st, which stated: “We also propose the extension of the central London congestion charging zone to cover the same area as the Ultra-Low Emission Zone”.
The Tories also want to force TfL to increase fares by greater than RPI+1% for the next several years, and to massively hike up council tax in the capital, just when we are in the middle of a deep recession. Council tax is already a regressive tax. This move would mean all Londoners paying more, but the poorest being hit the hardest.
The way that the government is handling this TfL funding deal is just the latest in a long list of attacks on London. For example, the government is also refusing to properly fund councils, public services and City Hall for the cost of Covid-19, which is forcing another era of austerity on our city. As we have seen with the way it has treated the great and proud cities of the North in recent weeks, the government seems determined to undermine regional government across the country, including London, and it will require a collective political response to defend our vital local institutions.
I am ready to negotiate a fair funding deal for TfL. But the Tories need to stop playing party political games and being vindictive towards Londoners, who have already endured so much during this crisis. As mayor, I will continue to stand up for London and expose the Tories’ lies. Londoners won’t allow the government to take us for fools.