Through the misery of Covid-19, which has taken so many lives, tales of heroic acts by frontline workers and stories of communities coming together have lifted the nation and given us hope.
However, our Government has unfortunately chosen to exploit the unprecedented situation we face to further narrow selfish interests and settle old scores.
Shamefully, this is how the Government is treating Transport for London, punishing Londoners for doing the right thing during this crisis.
The capital’s residents and workers responded to our pleas to avoid public transport to help us slow the spread of the virus and to allow NHS staff and other critical workers to travel to work as safely as possible.
This was absolutely the right thing to do, but it has resulted in a catastrophic collapse in TfL’s income, which almost all comes from fares and charges.
Visit our live blog for the latest updates: Coronavirus news live
It costs TfL £600million a month to run the tubes, buses, trams, trains and other services in London.
It doesn’t take a trained accountant to know there’s only so long you can sustain outgoings on such a large scale when income has all but dried up – even with TfL’s prudently big cash reserves, which we had increased by 16 per cent since I became Mayor.
So, just like the private rail companies, TfL asked the Government for financial support to see us through this crisis and to continue delivering vital services.
Yet, unlike the failing private rail companies, who got the big bail outs they asked for seemingly with no questions asked, TfL had to spend seven long weeks in negotiations only to be offered a bad deal with many strings attached.
I’ve been honest – I’m not happy with this deal but it was the only one that the Government was willing to make.
What does this all mean for Londoners? For the last four years, TfL fares have been frozen after they increased by a whopping 42 per cent during Boris Johnson’s eight years at City Hall.
As prime minister, he is now insisting that fares are pushed up above inflation next year. The Government has also forced TfL to immediately reintroduce the Congestion Charge – which I had suspended – and to temporarily widen its level and scope.
To suggest this wasn’t a Government condition is a lie. It’s spelled out in black and white in the wording of the deal, which TfL had no alternative but to accept.
I will not follow the Government into party political game playing – as tempting as it may be – because, frankly, I have more important things to do
That’s not all. The Government has also insisted that TfL suspends free travel at peak times for Freedom Pass and 60-plus card holders and temporarily scraps the precious free travel for young people, which will hit family finances hard at this difficult time and harm the life chances of many young Londoners living in abject poverty.
TfL was in a healthy financial position before this health crisis hit. When I became Mayor, TfL ran an annual deficit of nearly £1.5 billion, with Boris Johnson leaving no plan on how to get into surplus.
We reduced the operating deficit by 71 per cent and it was predicted to break into surplus in the next couple of years.
This was all done by ruthless efficiency within TfL, which more than paid for the TfL fares freeze I promised in 2016 and delivered.
What we are witnessing now from the Government is nothing but petty party politics at a time of crisis. They’re trying to shift the blame for their decisions on to a Labour Mayor, leaving TfL in massive debt and punishing Londoners for the sake of trying to further the Tories’ partisan ambitions before a Mayoral election next year.
London now has a world-class public transport authority in TfL. In the 20 years of its existence it has overseen a dramatic transformation of London’s Tubes, buses and trams.
Let’s be honest – back in the late 1990s, London’s public transport system was decrepit and in decay. But through sustained investment it’s now the envy of the world – a national asset we should all be proud of and seek to protect.
The financial package from the Government will only sustain TfL until September this year. Detailed discussions about a longer-term solution will have to take place, with three broad options available.
First, the Government could commit to a long-term operating grant – like virtually every other major city in western Europe has for its transport network. This wouldn’t be the rest of the country subsidising London, it would be some of the capital’s massive contribution to the UK’s coffers being reinvested to make sure our country’s economic engine continues to fire on all cylinders.
This option would involve the Government swallowing its pride and reversing its terrible policy to withdraw the grant in the first place, which Boris Johnson agreed to when Mayor.
The second option is for the Government to devolve genuine fiscal powers to London so that we can raise more of the money we need locally to pay for our transport network.
And the last option, which I hope all sides agree must be avoided at all costs, would be for TfL to be left with insufficient funding and allowed to regress to how it was pre-2000 – with a slashed budget, in decline and in decay.
While these discussions take place, I will be relentlessly focused on tackling the spread of Covid-19, running a transport network that is safe for passengers and staff alike, and preparing London for a recovery that will lead to a better and fairer future for all.
That’s why I will not follow the Government into party political game playing – as tempting as it may be – because, frankly, I have more important things to do.
I promise to continue being as clear and upfront as possible with Londoners about the challenges we face in London, the measures we need to take to protect ourselves and the implications of what the Government has decided to do to TfL.
My job as Mayor is to roll up my sleeves and get things done for London – I just wish the Government would stop holding us back.
Do you have a story that you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing [email protected]
Share your views in the comments below.