All Change: Transport & Commuting
“About 80% of our revenue is predominately fare revenue, with 20% advertising revenue, and that dried up immediately upon government instruction to lockdown and avoid public transport,” says Everitt. “We had to turn our business model on its head because we are used to attracting more people to public transport. From the very beginning of the pandemic in March, we had to flip that and ask people not to use us.”
TfL obtained 80% of its funding from fare revenue before the pandemic
Passenger numbers in the capital hit an all-time low in April 2020, with just 3% using the tube and 13% riding the bus
TfL plans to operate without government subsidy by 2023
How we commute has irrevocably altered, but transport authorities are working hard to meet the challenges ahead
When the pandemic brought London to a standstill at the end of March 2020, from an operational perspective, Transport for London was well prepared. Its line of business requires well-rehearsed resilience for all eventualities.
“Unfortunately, in the past, we had to respond to terrorist attacks” says TfL Managing Director, Customers, Communication and Technology Vernon Everitt, “and lesser examples like the Olympic Games, where we have had to really prepare our operational services to build in resilience.”
However, when it came to financial resilience, the pandemic demonstrated TfL’s reliance on funding from fare revenue.
“We had to turn our business model on its head because we are used to attracting more people to public transport. From the very beginning of the pandemic in March, we had to flip that and ask people not to use us.”
Will commuters return?
When the time is right, TfL wants passengers back. According to Everitt, any trepidation is generally on the part of customers who have not yet travelled. “We have been using all channels at our disposal to communicate with passengers. We have 4.5 million customers on our database and send them regular messages, as well as radio and TV advertising,” he adds.
It is too early to reach any firm conclusions about what COVID-19 will mean for travel patterns in the long term. While Everitt does not expect ridership to return to pre-COVID levels any time soon, he continues, “When the time is right, and the government suggests we are emerging from the other side of this crisis, we will do everything we can to ensure people can return to using public transport. For a city of 10 million people, you need an effective public transport network. It won’t be sustainable if everyone gets back in their car.”
Mind the gap
Getting TfL’s finances on a stable long-term footing is crucial. Train and transport operating companies worldwide have had their governments step in to support them, and TfL is no different. But, to plan ahead and land contracts for transport services over several years, the capital’s transport network needs to have certainty of funding. The government has asked TfL to prepare a plan to explain how it can operate without government subsidy by 2023.