London back from the pandemic with the return to offices, weekend leisure trips and soaring popularity of the Elizabeth line
London is getting back on track as it recovers from the pandemic — with the number of passengers using public transport surging.
Data from Transport for London reveals that the return to the office, weekend trips and the soaring popularity of the Elizabeth line have resulted in the best passenger figures since 2019.
The number of journeys on the TfL network has reached 88 per cent of pre-pandemic levels and is expected to hit 94 per cent by the end of the year. Income from fares has now reached its highest level since the first Covid lockdown, despite the cost-of-living crisis.
A record 685,000 passengers used the Elizabeth line last Thursday — helping to generate millions of pounds of extra revenue. On the same day there were 3.8 million Tube journeys and 5.3 million bus journeys. Each one per cent increase in total use adds £50 million a year to TfL’s coffers.
Business leaders welcomed the booming figures but called on more Londoners to return to the office — and said the Government must take further action to help the bounceback.
They said ministers must also make changes to the immigration system so that businesses, especially those in the hospitality sector, can recruit foreign workers to fill vacancies.
Business chiefs also said the VAT exemption on shopping for international visitors — the so-called “tourist tax” — should be reinstated to give them a further incentive to travel.
TfL generated £380 million in income in the first four weeks of the financial year — surpassing every recent year, including the £356 million in 2019-20, when lockdown first left London a ghost town. Seb Dance, the deputy mayor for transport, said: “These passenger figures are really encouraging. It puts to bed this idea that people are not travelling and don’t want to travel.
“The Elizabeth line in particular has generated new journeys as well. I think this is testament to its extraordinary ability to draw people to the network.”
The number of services on the £20 billion line has increased from 300 a day when it opened in May last year to more than 1,000 a day — a train every 2.5 minutes at peak times. About 30 per cent of Elizabeth line passengers are “new” to TfL — having either been lured from other rail lines, switched from cars or making a journey they would not otherwise undertake. According to TfL figures collated by the Department for Transport, Tube travel on Saturday, June 10 was at 90 per cent of “normal”, and at 96 per cent the following day.
A fortnight earlier, over the late May bank holiday, it peaked at 114 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. However, travel during the week — the key figure for TfL — has not risen above 86 per cent on the Tube or 88 per cent on the buses, showing there is some way to go for a full economic recovery.
The figures are based on journeys made using an Oyster or contactless card, so may slightly underestimate the true total, which will include paper Travelcards and cash.
The warm weather also appears to have sparked central London pubs and bars back to life.
Business leaders continue to press for government help. Dee Corsi, chief executive at New West End Company, said: “The bounceback in Tube journeys is helping keep the West End on track to return to £10 billion of annual sales by 2025. The Elizabeth line, in particular, has had a major impact on footfall.
“Policy changes in critical areas, such as reinstating tax-free shopping, would cement confidence and unlock sustainable economic growth.”
Total passenger journeys across buses, the Tube, Overground, DLR and Elizabeth line for the first four weeks in 2023-24 were up six per cent on the same four weeks last year.
TfL now expects to make a £79 million “operating surplus”, or profit, on its day-to-day activities this year. This is a key indication of how its fortunes have improved since it was at risk of bankruptcy when passengers were advised not to travel during the pandemic. However TfL warned that it was still dependent on government help for major infrastructure projects and repairs.