Public transport without the “public”

Unsurprisingly, the public transport sector was heavily impacted by Covid-19 restrictions and the resulting switch to working from home. Transport for London was particularly affected, with a 90% loss of income since the first set of ‘lockdown’ measures came into force in March last year. Despite an easing of restrictions over the Spring, passenger numbers haven’t risen to more than 60% of pre-pandemic levels.

As a sign of the times, the UK Government has just announced a third bailout deal for TfL; bringing its total government funding to £4bn since last April. In return, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has agreed to:

  • find £300m of savings or new income sources in 2021/2022
  • identify new or increased sources of revenue between £500m to £1bn each year from 2023;
  • review the TfL pension scheme; and
  • work on the implementation of higher levels of automatic train operation.

With working from home clearly here to stay, and the difficulty of imposing social distancing on public transport - in particular on buses and commuter trains - the public transport sector is at a serious juncture. One in which it needs to consider its long-term viability in a world where (a) passenger numbers may remain depressed for some time to come, and (b) cheap personal transport solutions are gaining serious traction.

With many governments adopting a Keynesian approach to their pandemic responses – promising to ‘build, back, better (and greener)’ - it isn’t worth ruling out the possibility of local public transport networks becoming subject to some form of nationalisation. For now, and for TfL at least, government interventions seem to merely be a “sticking plaster”.


This information is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. Please contact us for specific advice on your circumstances. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024.



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