This is getting ridiculous now. How many funding shortfalls can one transport system have? There's the £1.4bn gap between the amount Tube Lines say they need and how much TfL have to pay. Then there's the £2.5bn TfL had to save after Metronet went belly up. When a £30bn hole opened up in the national transport finances we thought, OK, surely this is it now. But noooo. That would be too easy.
A new report from the London Assembly, A Fare Decision?, reckons there could be yet another gap of anything between £0.4bn and £1.7bn by 2018, including a £112m shortfall for this year which TfL say they've got covered. They looked at Boris's promise to keep fares to inflation (based on the Retail Price Index) +1% which, with inflation the way it is, could mean a fare freeze or even a cut for 2010. We should be taking to the streets in joy - haven't we always complained about whacking great fare hikes? - but it's never that bloody simple, is it?
With the recession meaning fewer fare-paying passengers using the tube, the same problem that hit National Express is affecting TfL. Fewer passengers = less income. Less fare income at just the time the government is reducing its support = massive hole in the budget. Which, according to the Standard - and we foresaw months ago - could mean even higher fare rises in future years, service cuts and the axe being taken to projects like air conditioned trains, new track for the Victoria, Metropolitan and District lines and two new stations on the East London Line. We could even see fewer night buses on the roads. Is there no end to this feverish speculation?
TfL, predictably, say they "do not recognise the Assembly's range of numbers". But the report insists that low fares next year will affect TfL's income for years to come. They recommend the Mayor consults Londoners over fare rises (this apparently happens in New York and Paris), review the stupidly complicated fare structure (yes please) including the PAYG national rail plan and call for transparency over whatever fare decisions are made. Whatever happens, it's becoming quite clear that our transport is going to be royally screwed for several years to come.