London mayor calls for govt grant for bus, rail services

By: AFP      Published: 11:41 PM, 14 May, 2020
London mayor calls for govt grant for bus, rail services

London mayor Sadiq Khan on Thursday warned that bus and underground services in the British capital would be cut without urgent government funding to help meet the costs.

Operator Transport for London (TfL) has seen a 90 percent drop in revenue from ticket sales during the seven-week coronavirus lockdown as passenger numbers slump.

It has been paying the £600 million ($731 million, 678-million-euro) monthly operating bill from cash reserves but says the situation is no longer sustainable.

Khan said the operator was legally obliged to balance its books and without emergency funding would be forced to slash services, even as lockdown restrictions are gradually eased.

"We'd have to reduce the bus services we provide. We'd have to reduce the Tube services we provide to save money," he told LBC radio in an interview.

"If we don't get the deal done today, the CFO (chief financial officer) of TfL has legal duties that he has to follow."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week eased stay-at-home measures in England, recommending workers in sectors such as manufacturing and construction return to their jobs.

The government has called for people to use alternatives to public transport, including walking and cycling, but, in the capital, some Tube and bus services have been packed.

Khan, from the main opposition Labour party, said the Conservative government was failing to provide the support it needed.

Downing Street said talks were at an "advanced stage", without revealing details.

"Our priority is on reaching an agreement which keeps critical services running for those passengers who must use public transport to get to work, ensuring we keep London moving safely," a spokesman for Johnson told reporters.

"That means protecting key routes, rapidly increasing the number of services available and protecting the interests of taxpayers in the long term."

City mayors in Manchester and Liverpool in northwest England have also called for government financial support because of the knock-on effect of the virus restrictions on operations.

Transport minister Grant Shapps said the implications for long-term support for public transport were unclear if social distancing measures had to be enforced for many months.

But he said: "I am confident in the short-term that TfL, London Underground and the buses, and indeed trains and buses throughout the rest of the country will continue to run."

He urged Khan, whose responsibilities as mayor include transport in the capital, to get services back to 100 percent "very quickly" as passengers returned.

"It's very, very important... that we do not have overcrowding," he told a daily government briefing.