ICE: Urgent action on post-Covid public transport funding needed - International Burch University
Rescue robot developed to contain nuclear spillages at Sellafield
June 25, 2021
Khan under pressure to ‘pause and reflect’ over Silvertown Tunnel
June 25, 2021

ICE: Urgent action on post-Covid public transport funding needed

The need for an urgent debate around funding models for transport systems has been highlighted by the Institution of Civil Engineers in a new discussion paper.

With restrictions across the UK due to ease next month, patterns of use on public transport may begin to change once again.

The discussion paper – Public transport funding post-Covid – says that given the shift away from a traditional 9-5 working model, revenue models based on peak time travel will require rethinking.

It adds that while there will undoubtedly be a need for government subsidies to continue on a short-term basis, a continuing operating subsidy may be an unpalatable option to taxpayers, and a route to a declining service.

Operators will need to think about new funding models, including policies like road user charging and land value capture, how to fund and finance services on a systems-basis, and more diversified revenue sources.

The paper says: “While there is a large degree of uncertainty as to the extent public transport use will bounce back as vaccine roll-outs continue and restrictions lift, the shifts in where and how people live and work that have been witnessed over the past year are likely to drive lasting, structural change in travel patterns.

“This has major implications for governments and public transport authorities, which have built substantial parts of their infrastructure, services and revenue models around transporting commuters during peak hours on a consistent basis.

“Funding models which focus on transport systems covering their operating costs should therefore be a very important concern.”

The paper calls for governments and operators to take these decisions soon and avoid the costs of “uncertain, short-term bailout packages without a clear transition plan”.

It says these could begin a “spiral of decline and cuts to both public transport services and capital projects that would take years to recover from”.

Overall, long-term infrastructure planning should still be driven by existing long-term challenges, including population growth, meeting the carbon emission reduction targets and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“As the world moves towards recovery, there is an opportunity to do things differently,” the paper concludes. “The policy choices made regarding spending and investments on public transport during recovery and beyond will determine countries’ ability to reach sustainable development goals and national strategic objectives.”

At the start of June the Department for Transport (DfT) extended its financial support to Transport for London (TfL) to 11 December 2021.

The funding package comprises an extraordinary support grant of £1.08bn.

It includes plans to draw up a memorandum of understanding between the government, TfL and the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham to fund the reopening of Hammersmith Bridge – initially to pedestrians, cyclists and river traffic and, depending on cost, to motorists.

The previous funding package – worth between £1.7bn and £1.8bn – was agreed in November last year. It was due to end in March but was extended until last month, with plans to agree a new deal following the mayoral election.

Principles for future funding

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to ensuring sustainable funding for public transport going forward, there are certain principles that an effective transportation funding mechanism should be built on.

  • The funding model requires a reasonable amount of stability and resilience. Indeed, this is one reason why the pandemic has impacted hard on UK public transport in particular, as the heavy reliance on farebox revenue left operators vulnerable.
  • The funding model must be flexible enough to scale with demand for public transport in times when there is significant growth in demand. This includes close alignment between timetables and accessibility of different modes in order to ‘right-size’ the system.
  • The funding model requires a diverse array of revenue sources. While the exact mix of funding will depend on local requirements, there is a need for a mix of general taxpayer revenues, farebox and some specific tax revenues. This can include road user or congestion charging, workplace parking levies or looking to adopt funding models that incorporate property portfolios.
  • The funding model must be accepted by the public. There is a need for public transport to be safe, affordable, accessible and reliable, without government support for it vastly increasing the size of public sector net debt. It is important that the public do clearly recognise the value of public transport and its importance to meeting national goals, but the extent to which they are willing to pay for it needs to be a key consideration.


Department of Civil Engineering