I hope those whose jobs allowed it, got some rest over Easter. As we enter week four of the lockdown, here’s my weekly blog on how things look from the perspective of the UK’s urban transport authorities.
Sharing approaches (both between our members and also through regular contact with the Confederation of Passenger Transport, the Rail Delivery Group and the Department for Transport) on how best to protect the welfare of staff, whilst continuing to keep an essential service going for essential users, has been the dominant theme of last week’s telecons of groups, with a strategic and operational focus (including the daily meetings of our bus group). It will rightly continue to be this week too.
On funding, the second round of additional funding for the bus industry was finalised last week. Broadly speaking, in the earlier phase one, national and local government agreed to continue to maintain the same funding it put into the sector before the coronavirus pandemic began (such as for concessionary fares, BSOG and supported services) whether those services are being provided or not. Phase two provides additional funding for those services bus operators are actually providing. The idea is that in return for this funding, the bus industry will do the right thing and provide the emergency network for essential users that both national and local government want. It’s early days on how successful this plan will be – but both local transport authorities and bus companies are working hard to make it succeed.
With rail and bus funding deals done, attention is now moving to our light rail and tram systems where lots of detailed work was done last week by our members with DfT in preparation for a case to be made to the Treasury. Tram and light rail systems like Manchester Metrolink and Tyne and Wear Metro are hemorrhaging cash every week as they run near empty to provide a safe service for those who really need to travel. This is hitting transport authority finances hard at a time when they need to continue to provide an emergency service, prepare for recovery and invest in the future of these networks as part of wider policy agendas that haven’t gone away (such as on climate and leveling up economies).
Meanwhile, Transport for London is losing hundreds of millions a month in lost income with no funding deal yet agreed with Government. Merseytravel also has financial exposure over its devolved franchise for Merseyrail Electrics.
Whilst most of our bandwidth is taken up with dealing with the immediate crisis, some day – we don’t know when, but we know it will come – we will need to start up the public transport networks we have busily been scaling back and deterring passengers from using. This is going to bring with it a host of equally daunting challenges including having the staff and equipment in place, to what extent social distancing will still be required and whether this will be a phased end to lockdown and over what period (or indeed whether there will be a series of rolling partial and full lockdowns either nationally or sub-nationally). As well as starting preparation for the practical and operational challenges of the recovery phase, we have already kicked off work on what the long run legacy of this monumental period of upheaval will be with our transport planning group now to meet weekly.
Before I close, I would like to thank colleagues at DfT Local Transport – we all have our different roles and responsibilities and therefore we won’t always be on the same page – but we are grateful for the level of engagement we have had and we know just how hard they are working to fight local transport’s corner.
Meanwhile, we enter week four as we left week three – as #TransportAuthoritiesTogether