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Government attacks on TFL are a danger to our entire public transport system

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The government must not punish Londoners for following the rules to help stop the spread - it should give TfL a fair funding package that keeps London’s transport system running.

The government failed to provide an adequate support package over the summer – and then added a range of last-minute conditions to the money they did make available. 

And the latest government proposals, if enacted, would only serve to reduce democratic control of London’s transport system, punish Londoners with increased costs, stoke false division between London and other parts of the country and engage in party political point-scoring ahead of next year’s mayoral elections. 

The simple fact is this: TFL’s income fell by 90% at the height of lockdown.  

And our transport workers worked flat out to keep the system running, enabling other key workers to get to their workplaces. 

It was the current prime minster, during his time as mayor, who adopted a policy that left London as the only major city in western Europe that receives no direct government support for its transport system. 

This is despite the fact that keeping London moving is vital to the economy of the whole country, not just the capital. 

TfL’s finances were healthy – before the pandemic 

The prime minster claimed in parliament that the current mayor had bankrupted TFL, even though before the pandemic, TFL’s operating deficit had been reduced by 71% - and cash reserves have increased by 13%, during Sadiq’s time in charge.  

All this while honouring the pledge to freeze fares.  

TFL is far from perfect: as a TUC region we’ve been supporting calls by the RMT to end the outsourcing and poor treatment of underground cleaners. 

Unite have been campaigning for substantial improvements to bus drivers' conditions across the various bus providers and there have been job losses due to ticket office closures. 

In addition, more action is needed to improve the accessibility and safety of the system - issues championed by our regional disabled members network, pensions network and women’s rights committee, amongst others. 

However, the government’s current proposals would be disastrous. These include:  

  • extending the £15 Congestion Charge Zone to the North and South circular roads in 12 months’ time, meaning the zone would cover 4 million more Londoners.  

  • increasing TfL fares by greater than RPI+1 per cent for the next several years - binding the hand of whoever’s elected at the next elections in London. 

  • introducing a new council tax precept charge in the capital – effectively increasing council tax by an unspecified amount for all Londoners. 

  • removing free travel for under 18s and older Londoners. 

If adopted, these proposals would have a huge impact on Londoners and disproportionally impact people on lower incomes.  

As Jasmine Whitbread, head of London business lobby group ‘London First’, said: 

“Further increasing fares as London moves into Tier 2 restrictions means essential workers reliant on public transport having to pay more to support the capital through the pandemic, and will make it harder to get London back up and running when the current restrictions ease.” 

This is an issue for all union members.  

Colleagues in all parts of TFL will be at risk from cuts and imposed attacks on terms and conditions.  

The rest of us will face rising costs and reduced services.  

More than anywhere else in the country, London relies on its public transport system to get around, with the lowest rates of car ownership and the highest passenger numbers. 

And London contributes more than £40 billion more in taxes to the national economy than it gets back. 

So the Mayor is right, when he says: 

“I simply cannot accept this government plan, which would hit Londoners with a triple whammy of higher costs at a time when so many people are already facing hardship. The government should be supporting Londoners through this difficult time – not making ill-advised and draconian proposals which will choke off our economic recovery.” 

Londoners must not be punished for taking vital measures during the pandemic to keep the system running and to keep everyone as safe as possible.  

We must do whatever we can to support the call for a non-partisan and fair funding package for TFL - that enables our members to do to their vital work and provide the services we all rely on. 

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