Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
I beg to move,
That this House has considered e-petition 331453, relating to funding for Transport for London.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for taking part in the debate. There are quite a lot of Members on the call list, so I will speak as quickly as I can to fit everyone in. I hope hon. Members will forgive me for not taking any interventions, so everyone can get in.
On behalf of the Petitions Committee, I thank the over 170,000 people who have signed this petition, including 1,272 people from Carshalton and Wallington. I appreciate that there might be questions as to why we are having this discussion, given that the second Transport for London bail-out protected free transport for under-18s, but I think this is a live issue that will return, so it is right that we take the time to discuss it this afternoon.
I might be showing my age, but I can remember the introduction of the Oyster card scheme and free travel for under-18s. From the days of keeping loose change by the front door to get the bus to school, we changed to the Oyster card system when I was in high school. I have some personal experience of the impact that removing free transport for under-18s could have, having been on both sides of the introduction.
I pay tribute to the team at the Petitions Committee, which has conducted a survey among those who signed the petition to find out a bit more about their views. We have had over 3,000 responses to that survey. I would like to run through the key findings of the survey. Participants were asked how important zip cards, or other forms of concessionary travel, were for young people, and the impact that their removal might have. A zip card, or other form of concessionary travel, was reported to be “very important” to access school or college by 93% of respondents. It was also considered to be “very important” by 80% of people for accessing services, including medical appointments, 79% for work, 72% for training placements, 60% for accessing leisure and extra-curricular activities, 65% for socialising and 62% for meeting family and friends. If the 16-plus zip card scheme were suspended, 71% of respondents said they would find it “extremely difficult” to access school or college, 57% said it would make it “extremely difficult” to access work and 61% said it would make it “extremely difficult” to access services, including medical appointments.
The survey went on to ask the respondents what impact the removal would have on their travel habits. Almost five times as many young people said they would use taxis “very frequently”, with the number of people who would use private car “frequently” or “very frequently” more than doubling. The number of respondents who indicated they would cycle increased by 82%, but there was no significant change indicated by those who said they would walk. The survey also found that 60% said they would use the tube, DLR, London Overground or TfL Rail less, and 56% said they would use a bus or a tram less.
It is clear that petitioners feel that the change would have a great impact on their lives. Therefore, it is only right that we look at the heart of TfL’s financial situation. It would be easy to say that coronavirus and the subsequent drop in passenger numbers is responsible for TfL’s financial woes. Indeed, the onset of covid-19 has resulted in significant reductions in passenger demand, not just in London but across the country. For most of March and April, daily tube usage was around 5% of normal levels and daily bus usage was only 18% of normal levels. While we have seen a rise in passenger numbers over the past few months, they have remained stubbornly far below normal pre-pandemic levels, and the recent re-imposition of an England-wide lockdown has also had an effect on TfL’s finances.
However, I want to talk about the state that TfL’s finances were in before the pandemic hit. It is clear to me that Londoners were, and are, being let down by a Mayor whose mismanagement of the capital’s transport network has cost TfL billions of pounds in lost revenue, waste and bail-outs, as well as the pursuit of transport policies that he knew TfL could not afford. There are countless of examples of this, and I will run through a few.
At least £640 million in revenue was lost by freezing pay-as-you-go fares that essentially benefit tourists, but not Londoners, who saw the cost of their travel cards rise. Crossrail has been delayed by nearly four years, despite being on time and on budget when this Mayor took office. It was due to open in December 2018, but after multiple delays it is now not expected to open until mid-2022. The delay has cost TfL £3.9 billion in bailouts and £1.35 billion in lost fares revenue.
TfL’s debt has rocketed to a record £11.7 billion. Some 21 major transport projects have been delayed or cancelled. The bill for TfL staff on trade union duties has almost doubled. TfL’s nominee passes, which essentially let the housemate or lodger of anyone working for TfL ride for free on the tube network, cost an estimated £44 million in lost fares. The amount TfL spends on executive pay has ballooned. The number of staff on over £100,000 a year has risen by nearly 100 in the last four years.
TfL’s performance-related pay bonus has gone up by nearly a third, from £8.3 million in 2017 to £11.8 million in 2019. Fare dodging is estimated to cost £400 million. £12.3 million has been wasted on the Rotherhithe crossing and £20 million on Woolwich ferries, and the list goes on.
As pointed out by our excellent candidate for Croydon and Sutton on the London Assembly, Neil Garratt, that has had an effect on boroughs like mine, in Sutton. In a London Assembly report released last year, it was shown that Sutton was dead last for investment from City Hall out of all the London Boroughs, and that was pre-pandemic. That means that the future of transport projects, such as the Tramlink extension to Sutton, which our London Assembly member Steve O’Connell has been championing for a long time, is in jeopardy.
It is fair to say that we are going to be living with the effects of the pandemic for some time, and that includes transport in London. The Government expect TfL to prepare proposals for achieving financial sustainability by 11 January 2021, in advance of a long-term solution for TfL’s finances being announced before the second bailout expires in March 2021.
That long-term package must address the huge wastage that I have outlined and not punish Londoners for the cost of the pre-pandemic mismanagement of TfL’s finances. However, ultimately this comes down to the political choices of the Mayor, and in May next year the petitioners will have a choice to make: four more years of waste and higher costs with the current Mayor, or getting TfL’s finances under control and delivering a better deal for Londoners with Shaun Bailey.