Covid-19 has had an unprecedented impact on our network, with a huge reduction in ridership over a significant period of time. As movement restrictions change in line with Government advice, we are working to restore confidence in public transport and prevent a car-led recovery – which would have detrimental effects on air quality, public health, safety and the economy.
Integrated public transport, walking, and cycling are the building blocks for a sustainable recovery and a return to the economic vibrancy of our city, contributing to the recovery of the UK and protecting its international position. We have the opportunity to progress the UK’s green agenda through continuing to maintain and modernise public transport, electrifying the bus network, greening the taxi and private hire fleet, and supporting more walking and cycling. Through our supply chain, which stretches across the country, we can bolster productivity across the UK and drive the wider economic recovery. We also have the opportunity to allow innovation and sustainability to shape the recovery. To achieve all of this, long-term sustained funding is needed.
1.1. We welcome the opportunity, as the Mayor of London’s integrated transport authority, to contribute evidence to this inquiry into reforming public transport after the pandemic.
1.2. Covid-19 is the biggest challenge to London’s public transport network in Transport for London’s (TfL) history. The impacts – which were outlined in the Greater London Authority’s written response and the Mayor of London’s oral evidence to the Committee’s initial inquiry into the impact of Covid-19 – have been extensive and varied. As we continue to support London’s recovery from this pandemic, we can begin to reflect on the longer-term implications, although it is still too early to know with any certainty precisely what these will be.
2.1. In response to restrictions imposed under lockdown and the Government’s advice to avoid all but essential travel, London saw large-scale reductions in mobility and travel demand. At the peak of the crisis in London, ridership on the Tube fell to just five per cent of the usual pre-Covid levels and bus ridership down to 20 per cent. The reductions have been biggest in central London, where demand fell earlier and faster than in the rest of London, and is still low due to the absence of office workers. The absence of international tourists has also contributed to lower demand. There was a modest return to public transport over the summer, with the main growth observed outside of busier times; as well as some demand created by the return of pupils to schools and colleges in September. However, growth now seems to have levelled offwith the introduction of new guidance, particularly around working from home. Tube ridership is now around 34 per cent of pre-Covid levels and bus ridership is around 58 per cent. There was a faster recovery in bus demand in outer rather than inner London, which indicates people taking more local trips. Road traffic returned quickly to near pre-Covid levels on London’s strategic road network, increasing from roughly 50 per cent of normal levels at the end of March to around 90 per cent of normal levels now.
2.2. Exact trends and developments over the coming months remain highly uncertain, particularly given the recent increase in virus cases, and resultant tightening of measures. It is fair to predict public transport use is likely to be affected for some time to come, particularly into central London where we expect demand to be below that seen prior to the crisis for at least the rest of the year and probably much further into the future. Any further measures to control the virus may also significantly impact future demand and revenue.
2.3. London’s transport network holds a key role in supporting the city through the pandemic, and we are rebuilding confidence in the network for those customers ready to return. We are doing this by delivering a clean, reliable, and well-managed transport service. We are running near-normal levels of services on London Underground, rail, and buses; compliance with the mandatory requirement to wear face coverings is high; and there is an extensive cleaning regime in place that follows Government guidance to make the network Covid-secure. We are also providing alternative travel options through temporary walking and cycling facilities and information on the times of day when the network is quieter, to help stagger journeys.
2.4. However, we also need to be mindful that it is possible that the unprecedented scale and duration of the pandemic may lead to longer-term changes in travel behaviour. We have developed five scenarios for the future of London to allow us to consider the different paths the city might follow after Covid-19. They consider a 2030 timeframe and look at a range of factors – such as the speed and nature of our economic recovery; how working, shopping, and leisure practices might change in the longer term; and implications for the wider transport sector.
The scenarios are:
(1) Return to business as usual, where London bounces back quickly and looks similar to the Draft London Plan;
(2) Lower growth, with the city coping with the fallout from the virus and a diminished status in the UK and wider world;
(3) A smaller but more sustainable London, which has been impacted significantly by the virus and become more local as a result;
(5) An expanding, but still unequal London, where virus-related changes to the economy enhance its global competitive advantage.
2.5. The range of scenarios reflects the uncertainty London – and many other cities – currently face. However, there are some common themes across these different scenarios. While we do not know the extent to which people will return to the Tube and buses, or how quickly, we do know that we cannot have a car-led recovery, rising levels of air pollution, and a return to inactivity. This would replace one public health crisis with another. A safe, reliable, and affordable public transport network remains critical to the success of this city. Our ability to get more people walking and cycling is also more important than ever, given the limited space on both our roads and public transport network. The shift to taking more local trips also makes walking and cycling a viable option for more journeys than before.
3.1. It has been a policy of successive governments to make London transport users pay a significantly higher proportion of the cost of running, maintaining, and upgrading, the network than many mass transit operators in major comparable cities (both in the UK and across the world). This has made TfL more vulnerable to demand shocks such as Covid-19. Fares in London now form just over 70 per cent of TfL’s operating income, compared to 38 per cent in New York and 47 per cent in Madrid. Irrespective of the exact percentage, however, every mass transit operator globally has needed extraordinary government support given the scale of the crisis and the strategy of limiting movement and social interaction to prevent it. We agreed a funding deal with Government to cover an operating shortfall of £1.9bn projected for the period up to 17 October and have set out a requirement for further support for the second half of the year in our Revised Budget. However, even before the crisis, the financial model for TfL, together with extremely limited fiscal devolution to London’s government compared to other global cities, was a constraint on investment.
3.2. We currently manage and operate a complex integrated transport network, all of which needs maintenance, upgrades and eventual replacement. We cannot currently afford this or plan commercially without longer-term sustained funding. The five-year Rail Investment Strategy in the railway industry has, for example, facilitated the delivery of large-scale projects across the UK. The Mayor has commissioned an Independent Review, led by experts in infrastructure and how to fund it, to identify options for our long-term future funding and financing models that would enable us to deliver the right services for London, invest in new and existing infrastructure and continue to contribute to the UK’s development and sustainability.
3.3. As outlined in section two, in the short term the pandemic has changed the way in which people live in – and travel around – cities. The Mayor’s Transport Strategy, published in 2018, set out three priorities – Healthy Streets and Healthy People; Good Public Transport; and New Homes and Jobs. These priorities have not changed. We remain committed to delivering an active and sustainable mode share of 80 per cent. This means a continued focus on encouraging walking, cycling and public transport by adapting the road space, investing in our public transport assets, and an accessible and affordable network, and accelerating our focus on decarbonising the network. These priorities align with the DfT’s Decarbonisation Plan (published in March 2020) as well as recent investment in walking, cycling and public transport.
4.1. Since 2000, London has benefited from a devolved integrated governance structure, consisting of cross-modal transport policy-making powers combined with strategic planning functions across areas including housing, environment and economic development. This devolved structure has allowed us to take decisions appropriate to the local context, leading to better outcomes. The benefits of this system have been clear. Sustained investment, coupled with these strategic planning and policy-making powers, has led to a rise in passenger numbers, which in turn has supported consistent economic growth. It is important this model, which has proved so successful for 20 years, is maintained so we can continue delivering benefits for our customers and the wider UK economy. In this context, we are pleased to be working with the DfT on the transfer of Great Northern Inners services out of Moorgate, as well as the longer-term potential for the transfer of Southeastern Metro services that operate in the London area.
4.2. TfL, as London’s integrated transport authority, has a proven track record in delivering a good service for its customers. We have vastly expanded the bus network, making public transport more accessible, and implemented the Congestion Charge and the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), which have reduced congestion and improved air quality. We have also introduced Oyster and contactless payment ticketing and opened up our data feeds to developers, making travelling across the whole network much quicker and easier. Since our creation in 2000, London is one of the few world cities to have seen a shift of over 10 per cent from private cars to public transport, walking, and cycling.
4.3. It is important to note, however, that the impact of TfL extends far beyond the provision of effective public transport. We are a place maker driving economic development and regeneration; unlocking housing and growth; providing jobs across the whole of the UK through our supply chain. We have also been at the vanguard of driving forward greener, cleaner transport options.
4.4. The ability to make local decisions within London about our priorities for the transport network is hugely valuable; but without sufficient funding to achieve these priorities, and/or the ability through fiscal devolution to develop alternative funding sources (for example reflecting growth in the city), we have been held back in recent years. The current Mayor and his predecessor commissioned reports from the London Finance Commission to make recommendations on London’s tax and spending arrangements. Both recommended more devolved funding.
5.1. There are four major implications for the resilience of the transport system in future crises, which need to be considered when planning further interventions or recovery:
5.2. Safety and cleanliness: The safety of staff and passengers has always been and will continue to be our highest priority. A huge range of measures has been introduced across the transport network to ensure it is cleaner and safer than ever. It is vital customers have confidence the public transport network remains safe to use. Government can support this by providing clear and timely guidance to public transport authorities to help communicate consistent messages to customers, as well as take the most appropriate steps to keep people using the network safe. It is crucial that customers are confident they will be able to travel safely and comfortably. This means we must continue to run frequent service levels in line with our normal timetables, even if demand remains lower than usual, to provide enough capacity for customers to travel in a socially distanced way. Fewer – and therefore overcrowded – services would not be acceptable to customers at this time; public transport will only be resilient if people feel safe using it.
5.3. Supply chain: As with many other industries, the pandemic has highlighted the potential risks to the supply chain. Many of the goods and services that we rely on, including critical spares, specialist services, equipment, and consumables, are sourced from overseas, and we are therefore vulnerable to shortages if the supply chain breaks down. An industry-wide review of supply chain resilience would be useful to ensure that the UK’s transport supply chains are fit for purpose in the future.
5.4. Staff impact: Like all employers, we have had staff who have been unable to work – because they were sick, shielding, or self-isolating. 44 people working for TfL or one of our partner organisations, including 29 bus drivers, tragically lost their lives to the virus. At the peak of the crisis earlier this year, nearly a third of London Underground frontline staff were unable to work for one of these reasons. While we did everything possible to return Tube and bus services to normal levels as quickly as possible, this reduced the numbers of services that could run and the number of stations that could be operated. In addition to the frontline impact, like all businesses, we needed to shift rapidly to a home-working basis almost overnight. This was achieved successfully and improves our resilience for the future.
5.5. Industry coordination: Strong working relationships were established quickly, and existing cooperation strengthened across the transport industry, including national and regional agencies, as a joint determination emerged to address the challenges posed by the crisis. These need to be maintained throughout the pandemic and recovery.
6.1. TfL and the GLA are committed to supporting the Government in delivering net zero carbon emissions as quickly as possible. The pandemic has highlighted schemes and ways of working that, if accelerated, can help London and the UK transition to a zero- carbon economy faster than we once thought possible; boosting the economy, attracting investment, creating jobs, and tackling inequality. We have witnessed environmental benefits from the lockdown, most notably for London’s air quality. We must ensure that as the economy carefully reopens, we do not replace one public health crisis with another – one fuelled by toxic air pollution, with gridlock and congestion preventing reliable, on-time deliveries and services, and making it harder to travel to and from work.
6.2. To meet the net zero carbon emissions target by 2050, our primary focus must be on accelerating modal shift and for public transport and active travel to become the natural first choice. By quickly widening pavements, creating temporary walking and cycle lanes and closing roads to through-traffic through the London Streetspace programme, we are enabling millions more people to change the way they get around our city safely without turning to cars. To date, the programme has led to the establishment of 37.8km of temporary cycle lanes on TfL and borough roads. In addition, over 22,000m2 of extra pavement space has been created to enable social distancing for pedestrians in busy areas. Significant and sustained funding for walking, cycling and public transport is essential to deliver improved air quality, increased physical activity and decarbonisation.
6.3. Achieving the necessary mode shift and demand reduction will be difficult as we continue to live with Covid-19. The amount of time it will take for public confidence in public transport to rise again is a significant risk. It is vitally important the Government does not prioritise investment in roads for car use and/or financial incentives towards car use as a way of supporting economic recovery, or the decarbonisation targets will not be met. Planned investment should be reviewed with a view to redirecting funds towards public transport and active travel infrastructure and other measures to support decarbonisation and the wider sustainability agenda.
6.4. With nearly five billion trips every year, buses form the backbone of public transport and in many UK cities they are the only means of public transport1. We urge the Government to support London’s ambition and make all of the UK’s buses zero emission by 2030. Because London has control over its bus network, the size of the bus market in London is unparalleled within the UK – between a third and a half of all new bus orders in any year come from London. The London market therefore plays a crucial role in supporting the UK’s electric drivetrain and battery manufacturing. This can help secure green jobs in bus manufacturing across the UK, as well as create a strong and value-for-money zero-emission market for the benefit of the whole country.
6.5. Most importantly, we must clean up the power supply. Net zero will not be reached until the grid is clean. Under current Government forecasts, the carbon intensity of grid electricity will continue to reduce, but it will not reach zero.
7.1. Covid-19 has presented huge challenges, and we have looked to identify areas where technology and innovation can help overcome them. This has ranged from software- based solutions to physical engineering, including the use of data to manage the safe running of the transport network, innovative approaches to real-time bus information for NHS staff at the Nightingale hospital, re-designing bus driver screens, and the introduction of new cleaning products. We are also in discussion with London Councils and the London boroughs to explore what a rental e-scooter trial in London could look like, following the Government’s decision that trials should be accelerated.
1 The Cross-Sector Benefits of Backing the Bus, Urban Transport Group
7.2. of our key innovations is the TfL Go app, which makes it easier for customers to plan their journeys and maintain social distancing by sharing information about quiet times on our network. Our app is an example of a rapid technology response to a sudden crisis. The crisis has also highlighted challenges we face in developing new tools due to the ageing nature of our infrastructure, however. For example, only three of our Tube lines provide train weight data (giving an indication of passenger loading) and presenting this information in near real-time is not straightforward. We nonetheless continue to explore options for future development of data tools. This includes plans to use depersonalised WiFi connection data to provide enhanced information on busyness at stations and on trains, in a way that protects the privacy of our customers.
7.3. Through forums like the Urban Transport Group, we regularly exchange knowledge and understanding with other UK cities. This crisis has brought into sharp focus the value of coordination and demonstrated the limitations in the current structures for it. A centrally funded Rapid R&D and Innovation Hub could potentially bring significant benefits to UK towns and cities in the event of future crises. It could offer a formal process to share problem statements with other cities and stakeholders and provide the opportunity for public bodies to procure innovative solutions as a result of any successful trials, as well as providing strong guidance on privacy and data protection. It may also be useful to form a central database of solutions the public sector can access in an accessible way.
7.4. To encourage the use of new technologies and innovation in the face of challenges like this pandemic, a sandbox which allows innovators to experiment and bring propositions to market at a local level may be needed, particularly if it results in future legislation. We have created an Innovation Hub that allows innovators, from start-ups to corporates, to work with us to help solve our problems and co-create new Intellectual Property. To support this work, central Government should give local transport authorities FastTrack powers or research and development powers to introduce regulatory changes and/or licenses temporarily, using time-limited powers, to allow cities and regions to quickly and safely test and trial innovative solutions.
8.1. While there is still too much uncertainty to predict which changes to the way people travel and work will become long-term trends, we know that London will need reliable mass transit and a network that enables more journeys to be made safely by walking and cycling. The result of this crisis must not be a return to car-dominated towns and cities. Collectively, we can and should learn lessons of the lockdown to become more resilient. There is also an opportunity to accelerate our progress towards decarbonisation and to continue to use innovation to overcome policy challenges. Most importantly, we must ensure we emerge from this crisis both with sufficient short-term emergency funding for at least the next 18 months to enable us to plan and invest effectively; as well as with a workable long-term funding model, so London’s transport network can continue to play its role in supporting the wider economy into the future.