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Sadiq Khan: London desperate for commuters to return after Covid | London Underground

London is “desperate” for commuters to return and needs to keep investing to lure them back, its mayor, Sadiq Khan, has said as he reopened the Northern line via Bank station, a key connection into the City.

Khan said the reopening was another milestone on the road to recovery after Covid. The underground branch had been closed for 17 weeks to build a new tunnel, track and concourse to alleviate congestion in the station, a key interchange for tube lines and the Docklands Light Railway.

The commissioner for Transport for London, Andy Byford, said it had been completed “on time and on budget” – a critical point for TfL as it seeks to negotiate long-term capital funding for investment from the government.

The full £700m Bank upgrade project, encompassing six years of work on the station and including better connections, accessible lifts, and a new station entrance, will be completed later this year.

Khan said the reopening of “one of the most complicated stations in the world” was “another example of investment in public transport paying dividends, that will lead to an improved experience for commuters – we’re desperate to get people back to the office.

“This is crucial. If you’ve been working from home for the last two years, we’ve got to make the offer of returning to the office – the journey – enticing.”

TfL’s current emergency funding deal from central government, the latest £200m instalment after fare revenue dried up during Covid-19 lockdowns, will expire in six weeks, and the mayor hit out at ministers over the short-term “begging bowl” handouts to the capital.

Khan said: “It’s ridiculous. It’s no way to run public transport in a global city like London. Our ability to do long-term deals, to get value for money, is being hindered by the government playing party politics with London.

“We can’t stand still. We desperately need people back – but the government has got to understand we’ve got to carry on investing in the future. You will not get a national recovery without a London recovery – you don’t level up a country successfully by making London poorer, it’s not a zero-sum game.”

Bank and the interconnected Monument station were used by 120 million people a year before the pandemic.

Shravan Joshi, of the City of London Corporation, said the reopening of the Northern line’s City branch, connecting dozens of stations south and north in the capital directly to Bank again, was “fantastic news for the Square Mile as our sustainable recovery from the pandemic continues”.

Passenger numbers at City stations such as Bank have lagged behind the general recovery, at 55%-60% of 2019 levels, but are significantly up from about 33% in January.

Overall, midweek tube ridership has risen to about 70% of pre-pandemic levels, and almost 3m journeys were made last Thursday, the highest since the start of the pandemic.

Weekend and leisure trips, even before the mass return of international tourists, have reached about 85% of pre-pandemic levels.

The trend towards working from home is continuing to hit businesses in city centres, in the capital and elsewhere in the country. On Monday the bakery chain Greggs revealed that while its sales were growing, those at city centre locations catering to office workers were lagging behind those elsewhere.

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Byford said he was confident that midweek passenger numbers would rise higher soon, thanks to the opening of the Elizabeth line next week as well as the return of international tourists.

Standing in what was until January the cramped Northern southbound tunnel and platform, built more than 100 years ago, but is now a spacious concourse for passengers, he said: “It’s been amazing to see the customers’ reactions – some think they have got off at the wrong station.”

One passenger who definitely knew where they were was Kevin Koosaletse, 47, a construction firm director from Hertfordshire, who had rerouted to see the redevelopment: “It’s lots better than it used to be – I’m blown away, it’s very airy, beautiful.”

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