Sadiq Khan’s fares freeze will be ended in January, just weeks before the London elections take place, as JEREMY CLACKSON, our transport correspondent, reports
Fares on Transport for London-operated buses, Tubes, trains and trams will rise by a “punitive” 2.6 per cent in January, it has been confirmed today.
The fare rise for Londoners is a full 1 per cent more than the hike being imposed on railway passengers in 2021, prompting a senior London Assembly Member to say that “Londoners continue to pay the price for the political games being played”.
Sadiq Khan has maintained a fares freeze for London commuters since he was elected London Mayor in 2016.
But the covid-19 cash settlement, thrashed out with Whitehall in May, came with many strings attached, including the removal of free travel on public transport for most school children, and an insistence that all TfL fares should increase.
That settlement, and the cash it provided, is due to run out in October, when the Dominic Cummings-led, anti-London government is expected to squeeze the Mayor, and TfL, even harder before reaching any new arrangement.
Fares for next January are usually set at this time of year, with the July inflation figures used as the basis. Inevitably, inflation in July 2020 is higher than at any time since the end of February – 0.6 per cent.
For rail passengers, that could see an extra £100 added to the cost of their annual season ticket.
As The Grauniad reports today, “The passenger watchdog, campaigners and unions have all called on the government to abolish the policy of annual fare rises at a time when passenger numbers on the railway have plummeted because of the coronavirus.”
The increase means fares will once again rise well above the more commonly used measure of inflation, the consumer price index, which is typically lower than the retail prices index, which the government chooses to use.
Fares on the country’s privately operated railways have outstripped wage rises for most of the past decade, at a time when fuel duty for motorists has been frozen.
The 2021 fare rise will apply to all regulated fares in England and Wales, and most in Scotland.
But in London, the increase is 2.6 per cent. Today’s announcement by the Office of National Statistics also confirms how TfL fares will rise in January.
Caroline Pidgeon, the London-wide LibDem Assembly Member, described the fare hike in the capital as “punitive measures imposed from above”.
“This exceptionally high fare rise for TfL passengers makes it clear that Londoners continue to pay the price for the political games being played by the Mayor and the government,” Pidgeon said.
“Instead of getting around the table and putting Londoners best interests first, we’ve seen punitive measures imposed from above. From stripping school children of free bus travel to punishing cash-strapped commuters on the Tube, it’s time for the blame game to come to an end and a new fairer deal for Londoners is struck.”
One of the conditions in the Department for Transport’s settlement, signed off by Grant Shapps in May, stated, “The Government has asked the Mayor to confirm he will increase fares by RPI plus 1% on all modes from Jan 2021 as proposed in the TfL business plan. The Mayor will take this decision on advice of TfL based on forecasts and other relevant factors.
“The Mayor has agreed with the Government that his intention is to adhere to the fares increases sought by Government and proposed in the TfL business plan.”
There’s almost a sense of Khan’s arm being twisted behind his back as Shapps penned the “Mayor has agreed with the Government” line.
Politically, though, Shapps may have unwittingly done Khan, and London, a favour.
Khan’s fare freeze made for a catchy election slogan in 2016, but he had been warned by transport experts and Labour supporters that the policy could end up hamstringing his administration, starving TfL of added revenue just at a time when Crossrail was becoming increasingly burdensome. And so it has proved.
The value of a fares freeze is estimated by TfL to be £640million over four years. Oh, how they could have done with some of that money this year when the capital went into lockdown and fare income dried up to virtually nothing.
Khan’s Mayoralty has spent much time, and many millions of public money, unravelling some of the disasters inflicted on London by his predecessor, Boris Johnson. Grants to help subsidise public transport from central government, commonplace throoughout the rest of Europe and even around other British cities, have been withdrawn from Khan’s London.
TfL had already increased its cash balance by 31 per cent, to £2.2billion, before covid hit. They claim they were on course to have reduced its operating deficit by 86 per cent during Khan’s mayoralty. None of which will amount to a jot come January, when London’s voters are forced to pay more to commute to work, and all just a few weeks before the next Mayoral elections.
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