TFL looking to Roll Back Cycling Infrastructure

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TFL looking to Roll Back Cycling Infrastructure

In an unfortunate turn of events, the optimistic news we had been hearing from those in charge about developing cycling infrastructure has been blindsided by new revelations by TFL of a developing internal financial crisis.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, stated recently that there would be ‘huge cuts on cards for tubes, buses and cycle schemes’ if no assistance by Government is given in order to fill a £1.3 billion spending hole. While hyperbole is not unheard of in the world of lobbying government for more spending, it appears that the burden is unprecedented.

Indeed, TFL's finances have taken a dramatic turn for the worse – the pandemic and the exodus from the office meant there was a slump in fares income, that hasn’t resolved as the number of commuters remains below pre-pandemic levels, with tube ridership 65% of normal while bus numbers are 71% of normal – currently £141m lower than hoped.

Without guarantees, TFL will reportedly have to enter a period of “managed decline” in which only safety-critical repairs are carried out. This means bus routes and tube trains will not be replaced, and all new cycle and pedestrian road safety schemes would be ditched.

 This includes the “Vision Zero” efforts to eliminate road deaths, the safety upgrades at several dangerous junctions in London, TFL’s wider Healthy Streets programme and the expansion to the Santander cycle hire scheme.

As we reported recently on the wide-spread measures needed to push forward cycling numbers, which have grown exponentially over the pandemic, this is a significant setback. Especially disappointing is the fact that Government has not made it clear how this will impact its commitment to supporting cycling.

Indeed, it was just earlier this year that Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced a £338 million package that will be used to better secure the safety of both pedestrians and cyclists on British roads. Does TFL's announcement now echo a more pessimistic, and realistic, mission statement?

With the number of miles cycled in the UK up by 45.7% in the last year alone, reaching 5 billion miles, cycling has never been in a better position to confirm itself as a serious travel alternative, and to further the cause of carbon neutral living in Government's post-Covid plan. This announcement will significantly jeopardise that aim.

As Dr Simon Munk of Cycling campaign has stated, footing TFL with the bill 'is just not an acceptable way forward…the idea that we will be able to boost cycling levels – which we need to do for climate, which we need to do for pollution – the idea we can do that without delivering safety upgrades to junctions is utterly foolish. If we do not improve cycling and make it safer, we will not see more people cycling.”

For the meantime, some proposals for filling this hole with cash include smart road user pricing, which would charge motorists on a pay-per-mile basis. When this proposal was raised recently in City Hall, Sadiq Khan stated that it would be “kept under review”. But Mr Khan also stressed the need for a sustainable funding deal from the Government to support TFL in the long term and to plug its financial black hole. We think Government should heed his call.


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