Tories impose inflation-busting fares increase on Londoners

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

After four years, fares on buses, Tubes and trams will be increased across the capital

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.

Read the DfT’s settlement letter in full by clicking here

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.”

Sadiq Khan: the Mayor was warned about the problems he might create for himself and TfL with the fares freeze

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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3 Responses to Tories impose inflation-busting fares increase on Londoners

  1. Lewis White says:

    Sadly, there is no thing as free lunch, or bus ticket. If Sadiq had pledged to keep fare rises at 1%, I don’t thnk it would have lost him the Election. No fare rises for several years might win votes, but at the cost of not investing in the network, eg new tram routes.

    Similarly, the TfL Over 60’s free Oyster ( fantastic for recipients like me) must be costing the fare paying public or Londoners as a whole. Would a ticket payment of 50% TfL / 50% by the customer) be a sensible split, generating some funding for TfL but making travel cheap–but not free–for the 60 to 66 age group. After that, the Free Freedom Pass kicks in with retirement.

  2. David Squires says:

    As someone who cycles to work in London rather than take the train I’ve been saying for years that the main reason for the increasing number of cycles is the cost (and unreliability) of public transport. People look at the cost of their train and often forget that cost is on their post tax salary. When you work out how much of your pre-tax earning it is taking up the percentage gets to the point of being unacceptable. It is no wonder that office workers will now be fighting to spend more time working at home.

  3. Dan Maertens says:

    Isn’t this all political shenanigans? Sure, there was always going to be a cost to the Covid-19 lockdown and an inevitability that TfL as well as all of the UK’s transport service operators were going to struggle to continue to operate services without the revenue streams from ordinary joe public who was told to ‘stay at home, work from home’ to support them. It doesn’t matter particularly what the state of their finances were before the crisis – that’s an argument for another day – but if the UK is to return to some form of new normal, our public transport systems have to be functioning at or near full capacity, and will need to be paid for.

    If lockdown has taught us anything, it’s that we have to curb car usage – we can’t go back to the way things were pre-pandemic. I know it will upset quite a number, but the assumptions about our rights to personal car use have to shift, because now that they’ve been parked up for 99% of the time over the last 5 or 6 months, our air is cleaner, our environment quieter, our lives less stressful, and our wildlife returning. I think I like it this way. Who has factored these pluses into the cost/benefit analysis and the ‘financial settlement’ imposed by Grant Shapps?

    What we are in for later this year is loss of free travel in London for our children. Exactly what benefits will disappear and for whom still has not been fully resolved, but it’s part of the ‘settlement’ imposed on TfL by the DfT as Jeremy outlines above. I think I know who will be hardest hit. And before anyone pipes up about “we all had to walk to school in my day, and it never hurt me”, so did I. And I cycled 5 miles each way to school and back in all weathers (as did other regular contributors to this site!), but times have changed and road traffic in Croydon during rush hour is not what it was in the 60’s & 70’s.

    We need a proper consultation process and a proper consensus, rather than just having to put up with being imposed upon at the whim of government ‘just because they can’. I’ll briefly remind them what they promised – deliver world class public services / support working families / give city regions the funding to upgrade their bus, tram and train services to make them as good as London’s / support clean transport to ensure clean air, as well as setting strict new laws on air quality.

    Ok I’m a cynic by nature, but I think I smell a rat.

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