More Cuts are Not the Answer

19 March 2021

Since the beginning of the pandemic, passenger levels have been extremely low on London Underground and other public transport around the capital - as people have done the right thing, staying at home to keep each other safe.

 

This reduction in passengers has had an impact on Transport for London's finances as a large amount of its funding comes from fares. 

 

Yesterday evening (Thursday 18th March) the Government announced that instead of a long term financial settlement with TfL, it will continue existing funding for the next three months.

 

Finn Brennan, ASELF's Organiser in London, explains why this is totally insufficient:

 

This avoids them having to take any responsibility for the financial crises in London's public transport system caused by the pandemic during the run up to the Mayoral election on May 6th, but leaves TfL unable to make long term plans, as it has no idea what funding it will have in the future.

 

It is clear that there is no prospect of fare revenues returning to the level needed to sustain the system and provide for future investment. Even before the pandemic, revenue projections looked highly optimistic and presumed ever increasing numbers of passengers. With large employers (including TfL itself) moving to a hybrid working model, where staff work remotely at least part of the time, it could be years before ridership returns to pre-Covid levels. And fare increases just make the option of working from home even more attractive.

 

TfL have already said that large scale projects, once seen as essential to prevent future overcrowding and cope with economic growth, like the Bakerloo line extension and Crossrail Two, will be shelved and there are huge questions over other planned improvements like new signalling for the Piccadilly line. But without a proper long term funding plan there is a real prospect of deep and damaging cuts to services.

 

Despite the claims of the increasingly irrelevant Tory candidate for Mayor, there is no easy way to make more savings at TfL. Even before the pandemic, the current administration had cut over 4,000 jobs. In the last year another 1,500 have gone.

 

Cutting services or frontline staff numbers won't help. It will make using public transport less attractive especially for potentially vulnerable people. There is a real risk of a spiral of decline that pushes people into private cars and Uber journeys. Already road traffic levels are at over 80% of pre pandemic levels while the Underground has only around 25% of "normal" passenger levels. The implications for air quality and carbon emissions are horrible..

 

The obvious approach will be for the Government to insist on an attack on staff pay, conditions and pensions. Having already frozen salaries across the public sector and shown their gratitude to NHS staff with an insulting 1% pay offer, they will want to use the opportunity, just as employers like British Gas and British Airways are, to make their employees pay the price of the pandemic.

 

There can be few people left who are naïve enough to believe that Tory claps for essential workers were anything but rank hypocrisy from Ministers who are on record as believing that "British workers are the laziest in the world". ASLEF members on London Underground certainly are not foolish enough to rely on warm words. This week they returned a 97.3 % Yes vote for action when needed to protect working agreements.

 

Our members have a proud record of fighting to defend and improve their conditions. Anyone who thinks that the current situation can be used to attack them, will find themselves in for an unpleasant surprise.

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