At the end of next week TfL runs out of money. That's unless the government stumps up extra funding, which it will, but probably not as much money as TfL would like and invariably with extra strings attached and only at the last minute.
As part of the initial war of words the Mayor has claimed that "this could mean more than 100 bus routes being withdrawn and less frequent tube timetables on a number of lines and branches", even "potentially closing a whole Tube line." In return the government has accused the Mayor of "empty threats of managed decline" and "needless sabre-rattling" because they know it won't be that bad, although it still won't be good.
Closing an entire tube line wouldn't be too terrible if that line were the Waterloo & City line, given it was recently closed for 15 months and the rest of the network coped. But this does suggest that large parts of the TfL network are technically superfluous and Londoners would cope if they were suspended, which wouldn't be ideal but could save a heck of a lot of money.
If governmental billions really aren't forthcoming, the only option might be a slimmed down but functional network with all key connections retained. So I've had a go at helping TfL's most pessimistic accountants by attempting to suggest how services could be safely stripped down. It almost looks like the normal tube map, so hopefully the wider public wouldn't be too upset. I hope you'll be impressed by quite how much dead wood I've managed to wipe away.
The map gets bigger if you click on it, but not hugely bigger because some of my deletions are really messy.
First I've fully withdrawn not one but three tube lines. Well done me.
• The Waterloo & City line has gone, obviously, because it's strictly unnecessary.
• I've also got rid of the Circle line because it shadows the Hammersmith & City and District lines all the way round. There are a couple of corners that only the Circle line links, but a slightly longer journey via Earl's Court or Aldgate East solves that. We're not trying to make travelling easier here, just not impossible.
• My third casualty is the Bakerloo line, not least because everything north of Queen's Park is doubled with the Overground and there's no need for both. Also between Paddington and Elephant & Castle other lines always run very close, indeed pretty much in parallel with easy connections at Baker Street and Waterloo. It'd mean shutting a few stations, but there are two Edgware Roads so nobody'll miss one, Marylebone's within easy walking distance of Baker Street and Regent's Park is ridiculously close to Great Portland Street. The only messy gap is around Maida Vale but a replacement bus service between Queen's Park and Paddington would solve that and be hugely cheaper. Best of all, given Bakerloo trains are nearing obsolescence, mothballing the entire line for a couple of years would extend the life of any future service.
Two other lines become significant casualties of my streamlined regime.
• The Metropolitan line is cut back to start at Wembley Park rather than connecting wastefully to the West End and the City. Wembley Park is easily reachable on the Jubilee line, even if that's a bit slower, or commuters could simply catch a Chiltern service from Marylebone instead. The availability of Chiltern services is also why I've cut the line between Moor Park and Amersham, retaining only a separate shuttle from Chesham, because let's not waste TfL's money when National Rail can take the strain. Wembley Park → Uxbridge/Watford
• The Hammersmith & City line is significantly shortened and no longer shadows the District line to Barking. Instead it takes advantage of the Metropolitan line's withdrawal from Aldgate and terminates there instead, with onward passengers invited to make a simple pavement level connection to Aldgate East. Best of all train journeys should be a lot quicker because my changes have removed all the annoying junctions where signalling issues used to slow the service. Hammersmith → Aldgate
Four lines get milder amputations.
• The Piccadilly line loses its Heathrow Terminal 4 loop and also terminates at Rayners Lane rather than Uxbridge (because the Metropolitan covers that). These cuts shouldn't be a problem because they're exactly the changes TfL introduced when the pandemic kicked off. Cockfosters → Heathrow T5/Rayners Lane
• The District Line loses its Olympia spur, obviously, but also the Ealing Broadway branch (enabled by making sure the Piccadilly always stops at Turnham Green). Richmond → Upminster/Edgware Road → Wimbledon
• The Central line loses the Woodford-Hainault shuttle because it serves three really lightly-used stations (and they're not in London anyway). West Ruislip → Epping/Ealing Broadway → Hainault
• The Northern line loses its two unnecessary appendages, namely the Mill Hill East branch and the Battersea extension (because if people coped without it three months ago they'll cope again). Edgware/High Barnet → Morden
I'm leaving the Jubilee and Victoria lines alone because I am not unreasonable.
• The Overground loses a) Emerson Park b) New Cross c) Crystal Palace d) the Richmond branch e) the Goblin. Rationale: a) Nobody'll miss it. b)c) National Rail serve these. d) The District line goes there (and Acton has far too many stations as it is). e) It was closed for so many years its users already know how to cope without it.
• The DLR doesn't need Stratford International because Stratford's only a shopping mall away, nor the line down to Canning Town because the Jubilee line shadows it. Also, let's lose Tower Gateway.
• The Trams can lose Elmers End, if only so that they can be seen to contribute something to the overall cuts.
• TfL Rail should start at Ealing Broadway rather than Paddington and at Stratford rather than Liverpool Street. Anyone who needs to travel inbetween can use the Central line or National Rail.
• The Dangleway is cancelled. This will not surprise you.
Finally, and most importantly, Crossrail must never open because this will save shedloads of money. Nobody needs it because it's never been there for them to need, so it'd be best if we stopped all enabling works immediately. It'd mean the last 12 years have been a complete waste of engineering effort, but cancellation is the only option now that cost-cutting is the top priority.
I'm sure you'll agree that the remaining services on my depleted tube map would be perfectly sufficient for everyday use, especially now that passenger numbers are 40% down on normal pre-pandemic usage. It might mean slightly longer journeys for a few unfortunate travellers, but it's better than "managed decline" or shutting down the network altogether.
These cuts would reduce TfL's outlay by millions of pounds, completely solving their budget issue overnight... apart from one teensy underlying problem which is people. You can't shut lines without making hundreds of drivers and other staff redundant, and that'd be hugely awkward not to mention hugely expensive, if indeed it's legally possible.
Perhaps it's best I don't give TfL ideas, or indeed the government, before they screw the capital on the basis that London no longer needs a “London-style” transport service.