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Can TfL’s ‘Off-Peak Fridays’ boost public transport ridership in London?

Commuter numbers are still lagging behind pre-pandemic levels, with the last day of the week a particular concern.

running red and white train in the subway

Transport for London (TfL) will now run a three-month trial that will see all London Tube and rail fares switch to off-peak pricing all day Friday. 

Requested by the city’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, the idea is driven by a need to boost the UK capital’s economy, and will begin in March. Leaders of other global cities are expected to watch with keen eyes, as ridership across many major urban areas has failed to fully return following the pandemic. 

While midweek passenger numbers on the London Underground are now at 85% of their pre-Covid-19 levels, on Fridays this drops to 73%, a significant reduction which has had a significant impact on revenue for the operator, TfL. By making journeys cheaper, it is hoped that more people will be willing to travel to their employer on a Friday.

‘There’s no doubt that Fridays have suffered as a result of changes to working patterns since the pandemic and hospitality businesses have felt that loss of commuter trade,’ said Kate Nicholls, Chief Executive of UKHospitality. 

‘Responding to these challenges with innovative trials like off-peak Fridays is exactly the type of flexible approach needed to boost journey numbers and stimulate footfall in our venues,’ she continued. ‘I hope we’ll see positive results from the trial, for hospitality businesses, commuters and the wider economy.’

Travel costs a major contributor to the decision by many to work at home long after restrictions and social distancing was removed. However, the initiative could also see some make the choice to switch away from private modes of transport, which would in turn contribute to improving air quality standards and cutting greenhouse gas emissions in and around the city region. 

‘I’m doing all I can to support Londoners with the cost-of-living crisis and to support London’s economic recovery. This includes freezing TfL fares for another year to make transport more affordable for millions of Londoners and to encourage more people to use our transport network,’ said Mayor of London Sadiq Khan.

‘But I want to do even more. London has really bounced back since the pandemic, but the lack of commuters returning on Fridays is a clear exception – with a major knock-on effect on our shops, cafes and cultural venues. That’s why I’ve asked TfL to trial off-peak fares on Fridays, and I encourage Londoners to get involved,’ he continued. ‘A trial will help us to see if it’s an effective way of increasing ridership and giving a welcome boost to businesses as we continue to build a better, fairer, more prosperous London for everyone.’

More on public transport: 

Government funding cycles, confusing campaigns, and inflexible policy obstruct net zero

Oxford upgrades to one of Britain’s largest electric bus fleets

Birmingham is getting a new Green Travel District

Image: Pau Casals

 

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