After the usual screams of anguish from the Evening Standard editorials have died away there are some more ominous signs in last week's traditional September bundle of joy: the TfL new year fare package. "Tough choices around some unfunded transport projects" are to be made, and politics aside, Recessionist sees little light, and quite possibly fewer trains, in the tunnel ahead...
'Tough choices' - have been responsible for many of the irritating abnormalities of the London transport system - lines that stop for no good reason (Bakerloo, Victoria), stations that nearly interchange but don't quite make it (a few more of those already planned in Shepherd's Bush), the mysterious single leaf doors on the District Line's D Stock trains (cost less apparently) and the irritating fixed staircases on the Victoria Line ('sure, we'll put the escalator in later mate - won't take a minute').
Recession is a vicious cycle for our embattled transport planners: firstly the government has less money to spend, then there are fewer people topping up, buying travel cards and purchasing tickets as people commute and shop less. Fares rise to make good this shortfall, further deterring people from nipping out on the train. Finally, that very reduction in numbers is used by budget strained politicians and managers as justification to reduce the service and cancel improvement work, making traveling by rail all the more unpleasant, at the very time that falling demand in construction makes it cheapest to do the job.
Between 1989 and 1993 the number trundling into London on the rusting, if patriotic, red white and blue trains of Network South East fell nearly 200,000. On the Tube the annual ridership fell 83 million from its boom-time peak. Those who could switched off the neglected trains and into cars (oil, after all, could be picked up for $16.75 a barrel in those days), and it’s possible a few local money savers might have pulled the bike out of the shed, but many swapped the morning slog into the office for a nice bit of nail biting in front of TV AM while hoping that the next letter on the doormat wouldn't be one of the 60,000 repossession orders issued in '93.
Crossrail has been remembered as the big ticket victim of the last downturn (more on that later), and its smooth sailing through the current storm is far from certain, but the lack of investment in the 90s in the tube and railways set back London significantly. On the other hand the Heathrow Express and Jubilee line extension got built in spite of the leaner years and anyone who journeyed into town from parts east of Westminster will testify that they didn't exactly skimp on the architecture.
So when transport bosses like Peter Hendy starts talking about 'further savings', you can probably forget about jumping on a tram across Waterloo Bridge, file away your dreams of catching the Bakerloo or Metropolitan lines to Watford Junction, get used to cramming onto short trains on the Circle line, and prepare to wait a bit longer at Camden Road.