TfL Business Plan – Enormous Bus Subsidies Still Rising

Transport for London (TfL) have published their latest “Business Plan”. It gives a net cash deficit of £1.3 billion in 2015/2016 which is forecast to rise to £1.5 billion in 2016/2017. That just shows how expensive some of Boris Johnson’s policies have turned out to be, which will be aggravated by the new Mayor’s commitments on fares. But it does forecast near breakeven in later years as fares income rises, presumably as a result of the growing population of London and some new capacity.

Mayor Sadiq Khan is looking to reduce costs in TfL by £4bn which he has described as “flabby”. Will he be successful in reducing the bloated empire that is TfL? We will have to see, but this writer is sceptical. It’s always difficult to do so when an organisation is so unaccountable to the public for its activities as is TfL.

One problem is that bus usage has been declining – falling from 2,323 million in 2015/2016 to an expected 2,289 million this year. This is blamed on “reliability problems” no doubt partly arising from more traffic congestion compounded by the negative impacts of the cycle superhighways.

Bus subsidies in London are running at about £600 million per year, which is expected to rise to £680m in 2020/21.

Perhaps needless to point out to readers that these are not trivial sums. The population of London is 8.6 million (including adults and children). So that means that the typical household probably contributes over £200 per annum to support bus passengers. That figure ignores the cost London residents pay for the “Freedom Passes” paid for by the London Boroughs that enables pensioners and others to obtain free bus travel, and some other subsidies that TfL bus operations receive. You can see exactly why bus usage in London is higher than in any other world conurbations other than three Chinese cities – because it receives greater subsidies. Surely it’s time to reform this gravy train so that bus users pay for the real costs of their travel? Which of course they would be very reluctant to do.

Roger Lawson

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