Transport for London thinks that falling passenger numbers could be because technology is changing the way people need to travel.
The influential financial newspaper City AM has seen internal TfL research which concludes that, “The most plausible explanation for the decline in trip rates appears to be a growing effect of technology reducing the need to travel.”
The report says organisation has forecast a near £1bn deficit partly due to lower-than-expected fare revenues and that while it hopes passenger numbers will bounce back, there are fears changing habits could prove to be a permanent drag on ridership, and not just a temporary phenomenon.
City AM says time use surveys indicate that Londoners have been spending their time doing the same activities, but with “less travel involved in doing those activities”. This trend was most noticeable for shopping and leisure.
Analysts have suggested that Uber’s success may have come at the expense of public transport journeys, while online shopping could also have cut the number of trips made by Londoners.
TfL hopes fares income will rise as train frequencies increase and employment growth continues. However, the research City AM has seen admits, “We should not assume that trip rates will remain constant over time.”
A spokesperson for TfL told the newspaper, “It is too early – in terms of the available data and relatively short timescale – to pronounce on whether either trend is likely to be sustained in the long term” and that tube use is “only marginally down compared to last year despite the lower economic growth”, whilst ridership on the buses is on the up following improvements in journey time reliability.