Coronavirus: London Underground sees big slump in passenger journeys

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Coronavirus

The London Underground saw a 19% fall in passenger journeys last week compared with the same period in 2019 because of coronavirus, Transport for London (TfL) announce.

The figures align with smaller falls in passenger numbers in recent weeks, as public awareness of coronavirus and risk of infection grows.

Transport for London says the key drivers of the reductions are:

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  • A “significant” fall in visitors to London, detectable on parts of the Tube network connecting London airports with the the centre of the capital.
  • Employers asking staff to work from home as part of their efforts to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

A statement from TfL forecasts a possible loss of £500 million in revenue as a result of the fall in demand for public transport services, though it stresses that in an “evolving situation” the financial impact is difficult to predict.

“This is an evolving situation and the financial impact is difficult to predict. This will depend on the duration and severity of the spread of the Covid-19 virus. TfL’s current forecast, based on government scenarios, suggest that this could be a reduction in passenger income of up to £500m,” TfL said.

Simon Kilonback, TfL’s Chief Finance Officer, said: “Our best forecast, based on government scenarios, is that the financial impact of the coronavirus could be up to £500m. We manage our finances prudently, and have reduced our deficit hugely in recent years. This means that we can manage the impacts on our passenger numbers and finances that are currently envisaged. But, given the nature of the situation, we will be looking to the Government to provide appropriate financial support.

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“We continue to follow and communicate Public Health England advice, including that there is no specific risk on public transport. We’ve also stepped up our cleaning regime from the already very high standards to give our customers and staff further reassurance.”

‘Significant additional impact’

Tight cost control and efficiency measures have meant that TfL has reduced its deficit from £1.5bn to £200m. This has enabled it to mitigate in part the withdrawal by Government of £700m per annum in operating grant, delays to Crossrail and a softening economy. But these financial shocks have also demanded tough decisions about priorities to keep London’s core transport network operating effectively, including delaying plans to upgrade the signalling on the ageing Piccadilly line. The very significant additional impact of Covid-19 will now also need to be managed.  

TfL’s financial policies require it to keep a minimum cash balance of £1.2bn to provide liquidity to absorb sudden financial shocks. Above this, TfL aims to hold a further £600m for other strategic risks, for example sudden reductions in passenger numbers due to pandemic. These reserves are actively monitored and managed in order to protect day to day operations.

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TfL’s current forecast for its end of year cash balance is expected to be more than £2bn. This means TfL is able to manage the initial impact of Covid-19. TfL will consider further budgetary flexibility to ensure it maintains its financial resilience but the Mayor and TfL will also be looking to the Government to provide appropriate financial support to ensure that the core transport network continues to operate safely and reliably to the benefit of the UK’s entire economy. 

TfL is following and communicating advice from Public Health England, including that there is no specific risk on public transport, and has stepped up the cleaning regime on its services and in its work environments beyond the already existing high standards.

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Sam Hewitt

Let off some steam...