Elly Baker was elected to the GLA, having the number one position on the Labour list for the May 2021 election. She holds the Transport portfolio on the Labour Group, which includes the current “hot topic” of Transport for London (TFL) funding,
This was Elly’s first visit to us, and was again a zoom meeting as the main larger venues we visit were all being used. We hope to resume in person meetings soon.
The funding for TFL is different to other capital cities across Europe with 72% being raised by fares compared with the European average of 40%; this gap had increased in part a legacy from the previous Mayor and so was problematic even before covid leading to fare increases to balance the budget. Covid had led to a 97% reduction in passenger numbers, which was catastrophic for TfL and transport operators across the Country.
TFL had been treated differently from operators outside London, They had been given 18 months funding with few if any strings attatched. TFL had been given a series of 6 month settlements with a string of conditions as Government sought to control TFL actions. There was a requirement to make regular reports to Government with little clarity of how they would be used.
The current deal ends in December and there is no indication of what the outcome may be and if conditions will be extended or relaxed. There is no medium to long term thinking, and the Government remains on the attack.
Government had pushed for a service review in July, before the return to work. Sadiq Khan had negotiated a delay until September, although even this may be too soon; Currently tube use is 45% of former levels, buses 60%. The long term impact of working from home is unclear and there is no basis to determine whether this is a permeant change.
Elly made the point that service reductions, while they may achieve a balanced budget, could have an adverse impact on people’s lives, reducing mobility and social interaction. So an approach is required that is based on more than achieving a balanced budget at all costs. There is a need to raise the profile on these issues and campaign to maintain services.
Transport for London has responsibility for much of the capitals highway network, so the collapse in fare income has a wider impact – funding for maintenance and new projects has been under pressure. The GLA Conservatives have been critical on this point, although the lack of resources stems from Central government and the level and conditions within the funding settlement.
Elly then dealt with a number of questions from the audience. The first related to the lack of river crossings in East London, and issues with the Woolwich Ferry – frequently there was one Ferry out of action with the explanation of “technical issues”. TFL now has control of Ferry operations after insourcing the operation.
The business case for dealing with Gallows Corner was work in progress and Elly would pursue within TFL for an update.
There were issues with Town Centres which were in decline – Romford in particular was suffering. With almost all local buses passing through Romford there was a need to ensure Romford returned to thriving centre to ensure the network remained viable, with the knock on impact on social interaction, as Elly had mentioned in her talk. The approach of 15 minute neighbourhoods was relevant – promoting local businesses and reducing travel. Permitted development allowed more housing in traditional business centres. So a number of competing pressures and a need for consultation to ensure community engagement.
There were no toilets on the Queen Elizabeth Line trains – these will (eventually) run from Shenfield to Reading. While it may not be practical to modify the trains there is a strong case for toilets on stations. Elly was able to confirm after the meeting that TFL intend all Crossrail stations will have toilets. The current indication is the work on Crossrail will be complete in the first half of 2022, although caution was required as the project has had several issues.
Cycling numbers had increased, and a future GLA transport committee was designated to look at Death on the Roads and how safety could be improved. Level crossings are checked daily to ensure they work and a similar level of oversight of the cycling network is required to ensure it remains safe.
The Silvertown Tunnel had been the subject of some controversy, although tunnelling had now started.
Low Traffic neighbourhoods had a mixed reception; there has been bad schemes that Councils were defending and good schemes that had been removed. Cars were not bad per se and Elly recounted that when she lived in Hackney, the need for a car was less given the good public transport links. In rural Havering this was not the case and there needed to be sensitivity as to how the public were consulted on future schemes. The issues differ in Inner and Outer London and the approach should reflect this.
Car clubs were a viable alternative. They require infrastructure that needs to be in place (when Leonie Cooper visited us, she described how Wandsworth had a car club with 50,000 members, so this is possible). There is high car ownership in both Havering and Redbridge, and potential for a lot of resistance to changes however environmentally friendly. This requires positive engagement and if necessary well-funded car scrappage schemes to encourage use of more environmentally friendly cars.
Confidence in public transport is vital and mask wearing provides this – there was a general consensus that mask was less frequent. Bus drivers were understandably reluctant to confront those not wearing masks given the likely reaction. On a similar point it appeared the 86 bus route was an outlier in respect of “free rides” – again exposing the bus drivers if they try to collect the fare.
So a wide variety of issues within the session. Elly is also a Member of the Housing and Planning committee and we did not discuss the many issues in this area, which we will no doubt revisit in future.
Elly can be contacted via e-mail at Elly.Baker@london.gov.uk