Shaun Bailey, the Conservative Party’s liability as candidate for Mayor in next year’s London elections, is considering withdrawing the Freedom Pass from Londoners aged between 60 and 75 years old if elected.
Controversial figure Bailey has also suggested scrapping the Hopper fare, the system introduced by Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan by which Londoners are allowed to make unlimited journeys on buses and trams within one hour for the cost of one single fare.
The Freedom Pass, extended in London to offer free travel on the capital’s public transport, including trains and Tube for the over-60s, is estimated to cost local councils in the capital around £100million per year.
Bailey’s rhetoric on transport has recently focused on scrapping the entire London bus fleet to replace it with electric-only vehicles all within his first term. Prior to that, he suggested having driverless buses (anything to save the bus operators a few bob on staff salaries).
But he has also been openly discussing taking free travel away from hundreds of thousands of pensioners by scrapping the travel pass, a move which unlike the concession for the TV Licence, Bailey as Mayor would be unable to “outsource the blame”, which the Tory Government has done by passing the buck for managing its costs to the BBC.
“London’s Conservatives are in fear of being very badly beaten next year, and the realisation with every passing day is that Bailey is a real political liability,” our mole outside Croydon Tories’ suburban HQ in Purley said.
“Even just saying he’s considering scrapping the Freedom Pass for 60-to-75-year-olds risks alienating an entire band of Londoners, exactly the kind of people who can be relied upon to turn out to vote, and exactly the kind of people who might be expected to vote Conservative.”
That Bailey and the Tories have discussed such a policy also belies their lack of grasp of how the transport pass system works.
Bailey has only been a Member of the London Assembly for three years, after all… Even so, Bailey ought to have worked out by now that, in the unlikely event that he were ever to become London Mayor, the main part of the Freedom Pass wouldn’t be within his control anyway. It is funded by London boroughs, administered by London Councils.
The Freedom Pass, and indeed the 60-plus Oyster scheme, are incredibly popular. The Freedom Pass has existed since 1973, and so has been around for the entire working lives of most Londoners. What was once “the OAP’s bus pass” is embedded in the capital culture and seen by many people as an entitlement.
Bailey’s suggestion is also widely considered to be wrong-headed on environmental grounds, at a time when City Hall and Town Halls around the city are taking steps to encourage people out of their own cars and to make better use of public transport.
When the issue was discussed at Bailey’s “Manifesto for London” event at last year’s Tory Party conference, one delegate described the Freedom Pass as a “bribe” for older people.
“The freedom pass was introduced to basically bribe old people and I think quite a lot of 56-75 could probably afford it anyway,” they said.
Some at the meeting highlighted the electoral risk having a policy which would be hugely unpopular with London voters.
And while the transport suggestions were both raised at “discussion forums” at Conservative meetings, the notion that Bailey wants to withdraw the Freedom Pass has not gone away, with his policy still being debated in the pages of the August 2019 edition of Buses Magazine.
Any such move by Bailey will put him out of step with the only Tory ever to be Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.
It was Johnson who, in 2012, extended the 60-plus Oyster photocard to give those of pensionable age free travel on all TfL services, including London buses and Underground, Trams, Docklands Light Railway, Overground and certain National Rail services in London. The scheme applied to those who were not yet eligible for the Freedom Pass.
It is reckoned about 100,000 people benefit from this, with those who travel regularly into the city centre from Zone 6 locations such as Croydon able to save more than £2,000 per year.
The Conservatives otherwise have a particularly poor record on public transport in London, where fares soared by 42 per cent when Boris Johnson was Mayor.
For those not eligible for a Freedom Pass, Mayor Khan has frozen TfL’s fares for four years.
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