Crowded platforms on the London Underground (Image: Getty)

Why Sadiq Khan has to put a lid on the Tube

There is no money tree. You rob Peter to pay Paul. That’s what London Mayor Sadiq Khan knows. At least now he does. He’s having to square his Tube fares freeze with his plans for expansion and coming up short.

A “pause” on Jubilee and Northern Line upgrades is the most notable sign.

In summer he unveiled his bold 20-year transport plan which focussed on taking people out of their cars and putting them on greener public transport.

The strategy included this declaration.

Major investment across the entire Tube network will see the completion of new signalling and more frequent services on the Metropolitan, District, Circle and Hammersmith & City lines, while further improvements on the Jubilee, Northern and Victoria lines will see them offer one of the most frequent services in the world by 2023.

Forget that, says drivers’ union Aslef. This “pause” makes outright cancellation – and overcrowding – more likely.

Finn Brennan, Aslef’s organiser on LU, said: “It looks like a classic example of making medium-term savings that damage the long-term ability of the Tube to cope with London’s growth.

The Jubilee line would have had 10 new trains to operate a 36-per-hour service. Without new trains, overcrowding will get worse and worse.”

Fares freeze costs

Fingers are pointed here and there. At the government for withdrawing its operating subsidy, on a necessary drive for cuts, the impact of a weak pound on the supply chain and the inevitable sluggish nature of reform.

But a sizeable chunk of the cash – £640million over four years – has been diverted by the Mayor himself to pay for his fare freeze, ensuring “Londoners won’t pay a penny more in 2020 than they do today”.

The promise was already devalued when it emerged that the freeze wouldn’t help the vast majority of commuters who use annual travel cards. Now the cost of the freeze is likely to be visible, with the snaking queues at the Canary Wharf station growing from cobra to python.

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The Mayor is relying on the Elizabeth line to get him off the hook. The cross-London link looks likely to be hugely popular – maybe even overcrowded before it has begun – and will relieve some of the pressure on the Jubilee line from 2019.

However, any halt on growth to links towards east London will have an impact. The E-postcodes are where London is going and growing. His own transport strategy acknowledges the fact with a welter of projects, including an extension of the DLR, which feeds into the Jubilee, cycle links and the Silvertown road tunnel.

Regeneration and transport links are joined at the hip. Housing and economic growth feed into both. Retail policies which work at the stump rarely come without pain, as the introduction of the Night Tube showed.

Tube overcrowding happening

Back in February new figures showed that the Jubilee line was already an overcrowding hotspot. Figures show that 147,451 lost customers hours (LCH) were recorded on the line and 80 separate incidents in 2016. As comparison, the Bakerloo line had 44,575 LCH.

In response, at that point, TfL said an increase to 36 trains an hour in 2020 remained a target. 

David Hughes, LU’s director for strategy and network development, tried to reassure commuters again after this latest revelation.

He said:”Our modernisation programme and in-depth technical work by our new combined engineering division has improved performance and reliability.

“This means we can increase the frequency of our existing trains without the immediate need for new trains, making journeys quicker and more comfortable for thousands of customers every day.”

Giles BroadbentWhy Sadiq Khan has to put a lid on the Tube

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