Coronavirus UK: London transport network running out of cash


Sadiq Khan has begged the government for a bailout to keep Tubes and buses running after claiming TfL – which has so far refused to furlough any staff – will run out of money in a week.

The London Mayor said he was ‘eating in to cash reserves’ to keep the capital’s services going amid a huge drop in income from fares during the coronavirus lockdown.

Khan, who was accused of ‘risking lives’ for slashing services – forcing commuters that had to travel to work to cram into packed carriages – now wants a grant to help prop up the struggling transport network.

But Transport for London – which spends £600 a month to run the network – has not furloughed any staff using the government’s job retention scheme which would in turn help relieve the financial pressure.

Instead, up to a third of drivers have been sat at home sick or self isolating amid pressure from unions over staff safety during the pandemic, which has led to the reduction in services. 

The Rail, Martime and Transport Union has warned there is ‘zero chance’ of ramping up services soon amid speculation of an increase from next month  because of ‘widespread failings’ to protect staff. 

Hundreds of thousands of commuters have had no option but to cram into packed Tubes and buses to get to work ‘like sardines’ after Khan shut 40 stations, closed the entire Circle Line and slashed services to 55 per cent capacity at rush hour.

Khan also threatened that services could get even worse next month if money is not found, as shocking photographs of packed Tube carriages and buses continue to emerge daily. 

His decision to significantly reduce services last month for ‘no good reason’ was slammed by Health Secretary Matt Hancock who said they should be running in full so people ‘are spaced out and can be further apart’. 

The Mayor of London last night revealed there had been a 95 per cent reduction in Tube use and an 85 per cent fall in numbers on buses following the coronavirus lockdown. 

Commuters already say they have been packed into Tubes ‘like sardines’ after Mr Khan shut 40 stations (pictured, passengers at Canning Town Station this morning) 

Sadiq Khan has said Transport for London could run out of money by the end of the month due to falling passenger numbers across the network (pictured, commuters at Canning Town station this morning)

Sadiq Khan has said Transport for London could run out of money by the end of the month due to falling passenger numbers across the network (pictured, commuters at Canning Town station this morning)  

Mr Khan told BBC Radio London: ‘TfL is like many business in London. We rely upon our fares income to pay for things, whether its services or investing in capital. 

‘The Government has cut our operating grant, so without fares we can’t do stuff. And so we have our cash reserves which we’re eating into.

‘Frankly speaking, because we’ve lost 95 per cent of passengers on the Tube, because we’ve lost 85 per cent of passenger on buses, we are struggling. 

‘We are eating into our reserves. So we’re in conversation with the government in relation to supporting us with a grant. Just like the government is supporting businesses with grants.’ 

Asked how long TfL might be able to carry on for, Mr Khan replied: ‘Probably end of this month’. 

He added: ‘What we can’t afford to do is have to make a decision to cut more services because we can’t pay people. So that’s why it’s really important.’

The London Mayor’s demand for a bailout comes amid a string of controversies over during London’s transport crisis:

  • Khan was blasted for doing ‘too little to late’ after TfL announced they would seal off the front doors of buses to prevent contact with drivers only this week
  • Some 26 TfL staff have now died of coronavirus
  • Khan was accused of ‘risking lives’ for cutting services which forced commuters to pack into packed carriages
  • TfL have so far not furloughed any staff member, as up to a third of drivers saty at home because they are sick or self-isolating
  • TfL faces a war with unions as they attempt to get the network up and running after lockdown as they demand assurances on driver safety  

 According to the BBC, TfL is looking to furlough non-front line non-operational staff through the Job Retention Scheme.

Insiders told the corporation that could mean thousands of TfL staff. They will get 80% of their salary paid for by government and TfL will pay the rest.

Also all future capital projects are now being reviewed which could mean delays and cancellations to projects like the Piccadilly line upgrade, the Barking Riverside Extension and Crossrail 2.

His comments come as ‘frightened’ passengers already face ‘crowded conditions and a lack of space’ on trains due to cuts already made to Tube services. 

The RMT union said it had heard that train services would be increased from May 11, or May 18, when the new timetable is due to be introduced.

'Frightened' passengers already face 'crowded conditions and a lack of space' on trains due to cuts already made to Tube services (pictured, Canning Town this morning)

‘Frightened’ passengers already face ‘crowded conditions and a lack of space’ on trains due to cuts already made to Tube services (pictured, Canning Town this morning)

Industry sources said no dates have yet been agreed or announced.

The union said a survey it carried out among 10,000 transport workers revealed ‘widespread failings’ in the protection of staff and passengers.

Two out of five of those questioned said their employer has put profit or business priorities before safety, a third described action to protect them from Covid-19 as poor or terrible, and a similar number said they had not been issued with personal protective equipment (PPE).

Most said they had not been tested for the virus, and four out of 10 said they have no access to washing facilities.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: ‘We are being told by a range of rail companies that ministers definitely want to be ready to increase rail services at some point in May.

A joint survey, published on Monday by two transport watchdogs, showed some passengers are 'alarmed' and 'frightened' by the resulting crowded stations and packed Tubes (pictured, passengers at Canning Town station this morning)

A joint survey, published on Monday by two transport watchdogs, showed some passengers are ‘alarmed’ and ‘frightened’ by the resulting crowded stations and packed Tubes (pictured, passengers at Canning Town station this morning)

‘Yet our survey of 10,000 transport workers has shown there are widespread failures to provide even the most basic protections for our members.

‘If these are not addressed then a ramping up of transport services will also ramp up the risk to workers and passengers.

‘To protect both our members and passengers I will be writing to the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, saying there is zero chance of this being agreed in the current climate.

‘We will not accept unsafe directives being handed down on high from the boardroom or the Cabinet room.’     

Bus travel was made free on Monday in a bid to protect drivers as passengers are forced to board using only side doors. 

The Mayor has also called for compulsory face masks on Tubes and buses after the death of 26 Transport for London (TfL) workers from Covid-19 – despite concern over their effectiveness.

Khan was on Monday accused of doing ‘too little, too late’ as the measures on London buses came into force. 

Confidence among passengers in the mayor and TfL appears to be falling.

A joint survey, published on Monday by two transport watchdogs, showed some passengers are ‘alarmed’ and ‘frightened’ by the resulting crowded stations and packed Tubes. 

In the joint survey, published by London Travel Watch and Transport Focus, one passenger said: ‘I felt quite alarmed by the crowded conditions and lack of space for social distancing.

‘The cut in Underground trains is self-defeating in the effort to prevent spread of the virus.’

Another said: ‘These journeys have been frightening, as there are still FAR too many people travelling – especially on certain lines like the Victoria Line and Piccadilly.

‘TfL needs to be stopping people who should not be travelling, so that NHS staff and food shop workers can get to work safely.’

A spokesperson for London Travel Watch said ‘safety had to be the priority’, but urged transport chiefs and union bosses to ‘take into account’ the needs of passengers. 

A man is seen wearing a protective face mask on a London bus earlier this week as the spread of the coronavirus disease continues

A man is seen wearing a protective face mask on a London bus earlier this week as the spread of the coronavirus disease continues

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for think-tank the Adam Smith Institute said it was important to have the economy ‘firing on all cylinders’ after lockdown has ended and said transport was ‘absolutely vital’ for that.

The spokesperson added: ‘It will be on the unions, the politicians and the transport bosses to ensure conditions are safe, as well as the unions being responsible and not spurious.’  

In response to Mr Khan’s comments last night, a spokesman for Transport for London said: ‘The Mayor was referring to reaching our prudent ‘minimum cash balances’ by the end of the month, which by then will still be £1.2bn. 

‘This is sufficient for us to keep operating the city’s core transport and paying our staff while we are in constructive discussions with the Government on our financial future.’

As well as seeking a Government grant, TfL announced it is looking to furlough some staff.   

Mike Brown MVO, London’s Transport Commissioner, said: ‘I’m incredibly proud of our colleagues’ commitment and determination to run the transport network to serve the NHS and other Londoners making absolutely essential journeys. 

‘Londoners have listened to the advice of the Mayor and the Government and are staying at home to help reduce the spread of the virus. This is evidenced by the huge reduction in people using our network, which is helping to save lives. 

‘But that has also hugely reduced our fares and other revenue. We are having constructive conversations with the Government about the support that we need so that we can continue to serve the city effectively. 

Mick Whelan general secretary of the Aslef union implied that many workers will either still be off ill or self-isolating by the time an alleged easing of the lockdown restrictions comes into force

Mick Whelan general secretary of the Aslef union implied that many workers will either still be off ill or self-isolating by the time an alleged easing of the lockdown restrictions comes into force

‘Where appropriate we intend to use the Government’s Job Retention Scheme that is designed to support staff whose work has been paused because of the virus. 

‘This will mean that we can carry on the vital work that needs to be done during the pandemic and support the national effort to beat it.’ 

Train drivers union Aslef, as well as Unite, have called for assurances on driver safety after the death of 26 Transport for London (TfL) workers from Covid-19 before any changes to the service TfL is operating. 

The ‘exit strategy’ reported at the weekend would see the country back up and running again in stages from May 11, with rail and bus services the first to be brought up to normal levels.

But Mick Whelan general secretary of the Aslef union implied that many workers will either still be off ill or self-isolating by then.

He said: ‘There have been no discussions on a return to full service but, given the fluctuating staff numbers, logistically, it would be unlikely. 

‘There would also need to be a very strong case made before we would be assured that it would be 100 per cent safe to do so.’ 

Commuters exit Canning Town Station this morning. To their right, a warning that social distancing must be maintained while using London transport

Commuters exit Canning Town Station this morning. To their right, a warning that social distancing must be maintained while using London transport

And Finn Brennan district organiser for train drivers’ union Aslef, also hit out at the plans for a possible return on May 11, tweeting: ‘So the Government wants full public transport services running in three weeks. 

‘Are we to pretend that transport workers dying just didn’t happen? Or that many will still be ill or self isolating? 

‘Despite all the hypocritical rhetoric about heroes the contempt is clear.’ 

Unite secretary for the London and Eastern region Pete Kavanagh said: ‘TfL and the bus companies need to limit the number of passengers that can board at any one time and those passengers need to be wearing face covering to prevent the spread of the virus.’

Union demands for driver safety include enforcing rules on passengers wearing face masks to prevent the spread of infection and urging construction sites to stagger opening times to lessen the number of people on transport at any one time.

Passengers have already been told to board buses by the middle doors to avoid contact with the driver.   

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk