Now Tories look to axe Freedom Pass as well as Zip cards

An unelected adviser, an old mate of Boris Johnson, is imposing a range of conditions on TfL and causing anger among Tory MPs, as our transport correspondent, JEREMY CLACKSON, reports

The anti-London government run by Dominic Cummings is looking to take away free travel for the capital’s seniors as well as young Londoners, as they pile on extra conditions on any cash bail-out for Transport for London that would keep the buses, Tubes and trams running.


TfL needs £2bn by the end of this month to keep the trams, buses and Tubes running

The Conservatives’ useless candidate for London Mayor, Shaun Bailey, has resorted to running a social media petition opposing the £15 hike in the Congestion Charge, without being honest enough to state that it was his party colleague, Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, who imposed it on Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan as part of the first financial settlement over TfL’s covid-hit finances.

False claims made by Boris Johnson in the House of Commons yesterday, when he said Khan had bankrupted TfL, saw the Mayor respond by calling the Prime Minister a liar. Johnson, of course, was Khan’s predecessor as Mayor of London, and when he left office in 2016 after eight years of “spaffing” away tax-payers’ money, TfL’s deficit had been hiked up to £1.5billion. After three years of more careful management of the transport authority’s finances, by the start of this year, it was down to £200million.

And then came covid-19, cutting off virtually all of TfL’s fares income for months.

Now the special adviser who has been imposed on the TfL board, Andrew Gilligan (an old friend of Johnson’s), is reported to be pushing for the axing of the Freedom Pass – a policy which Bailey’s campaign team openly discussed and which their candidate then spent much time trying to distance himself from.

The evident confusion and contradictions in Conservative Party policy towards London and other Labour-run cities, as they attempt to exploit the coronavirus emergency for electoral advantage, has been reported this lunchtime as causing some Tory MPs to “vent fury” over another imposition, an extension of the Congestion Charge zone as far as the North and South Circular Roads.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan: accused Boris Johnson of lying over TfL finances

Today’s Evening Standard drew attention to the story Inside Croydon reported yesterday over a statement made by Croydon South MP Chris Philp, denying categorically that there was any such C-zone plan, when his colleague Shapps had already written to Khan demanding exactly that.

Shapp’s letter to Khan said: “Given the significant rise in congestion in inner London, we also propose the extension of the central London congestion charging zone to cover the same area as the Ultra Low Emission Zone.” The ULEZ is bounded by the North and South Circular, an area 18 times bigger than the present C-Charge zone.

As the Standard reports today, “This undermined public statements from Ministers, such as Croydon South MP Chris Philp, who had told the BBC on Sunday: ‘This suggestion… that the Government has insisted upon an extension of the congestion charging zone is completely and categorically untrue’.” Whoops…

Senior Tories at Westminster, including former party leader Iain Duncan Smith, Theresa Villiers, and Sutton and Cheam MP Paul Scully, were among those who logged-in to a virtual meeting with Shapps and who “vented their fury” over the transport secretary’s leaked C-Charge plan.

Zoomed: Paul Scully, one of those London Tory MPs angry at Shapps’ plans

“We basically made clear that any extension to the Congestion Charge zone was totally unacceptable,” one MP told the Standard. “It in no way shape or form could it be the condition of any bailout.

“There is anger that even these things are being considered because they are totally unacceptable.”

The paper also reported that scrapping the Freedom Pass, which provides free travel for Londoners over 60 years old, is another money-spinning option being put forward by Shapps.

Free bus travel for London’s schoolchildren was due to be scrapped after the October half-term, one of the conditions of Shapp’s first TfL settlement, though that has now been delayed until next year.

The London Tory MPs say that getting rid of the Freedom Pass is a really bad idea that will cost them votes, something Bailey realised belatedly after inviting debate on the same suggestion at a fringe meeting at a Conservative Party conference.

The Congestion Charge increase was the idea of Shapps and Gilligan. But Shaun Bailey forgot to mention that

Though Bailey, along the lines of the lies of his mentor Johnson, would doubtless claim that scrapping the Freedom Pass was all Mayor Khan’s fault…

In the meantime, Khan and TfL are trying to keep London’s transport infrastructure running.

Yesterday, Simon Kilonback, TfL’s finance chief, told a board meeting that unless a £2billion bailout was secured by the end of the month he would have to issue a Section 114 order, saying it could not run a balanced budget.

“It’s not something to be taken lightly,” Kilonback said. “It’s not a joke. It’s not a threat. We have a responsibility to the employees of TfL and our supply chain to avoid at all costs getting in Section 114 territory.

“It really is a nuclear option that precipitates disorderly disaster.”

Although Gilligan was appointed to the TfL board in as one of the conditions of the £1.6billion bailout agreed in May, he has so far failed to attend any meetings.

“Andrew Gilligan advises the Prime Minister,” Mayor Khan said. “I’m shocked he can’t be bothered to turn up to the TfL board meeting.”

Spy in the camp: Andrew Gilligan

But journalists are reporting that it is Gilligan, a transport adviser to Johnson during his time at City Hall, “was very pleased with the hike to £15” of the Congestion Charge. If Gilligan had been unhappy about that change, “those changes would have been vetoed”, they have reported.

“A great deal of what Shapps is telling TfL to do if it wants any financial help is steered and controlled by Gilligan – not only dumping fares concessions but also the things Bailey and fellow London Tories are most cross about,” they wrote.

“Gilligan has yet to attend a TfL board meeting, as the terms of the May bailout require him to… If he did, he might face some awkward questions.”

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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4 Responses to Now Tories look to axe Freedom Pass as well as Zip cards

  1. Great reporting, IC. And another example of how the Tories are promoting conflict at the very time they need a consensus to tackle Covid19. They are picking fights with those they see as political opponents, such as Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan, instead of trying to work together. This fits with the Cummings rule by chaos theory and is also a further example of aping the Trump playbook, to go with subverting institutions such as the BBC and civil service; using graft to pay off your mates; racist dog-whistles and scapegoating immigrants; pushing back in violent terms at your critics; blaming others and gaslighting for your mistakes; and outright and shameless lying. Let us hope that London’s tory MPs point out the electoral stupidity of some of the London transport proposals. But with the unelected Cummings running government policy, he probably doesn’t care.

  2. Lewis White says:

    I hate to mention it, but the idea of giving free travel to the 60 to (the long-standing male retirement) 65 (now 66) year age group must have cost TfL a fortune over the years.

    The 60 plus Oyster card has given male wage earners aged over 60–like I was for several years before retirement — free travel. As they say, there is no such thing as a free lunch. It was costing someone- in this case, TfL

    I would have been very pleased to get half-price travel from age 60 to 66. My initial delight of completely free travel after 60 was in fact impaired by the knowledge that I could have afforded to pay my way, and that fellow passengers aged below 60 would probably end up paying for my privilege.

    Secondly, Sadiq’s freezing of fares did not make sense. Lovely for the fare payer to not suffer an increase, but everyone knew that the fare chickens would soon come home to roost.

    Rather than increase fares by a gentle, sensible amount each year, to reflect the real cost of rise in salaries of TfL employees, and the real year-on-year cost of maintaining the London Transport infrastructure, looks like they will now suffer a violent increase.

    OK, imposed not by Sadiq Khan or TfL, but by Government.
    That isn’t going to please the customers. And its not fair either.
    Fair fares for all. That’s what we need. Based on real facts, not political ideology from left nor right.

    Goodness knows how TfL receipts will be in a couple of years, assuming covid is defeated.
    The post-covid landscape is obscured by dark clouds. What is lurking behind them, no-one knows, ……….. but the public transport outlook is probably not going to be sunny.

    • ASLEF shrugged says:

      The fares freeze has cost an estimated £650m over four years, TfL costs £600m a month to operate so effectively TfL lost one month out of 48. Maybe the fares freeze is not to blame for TfL’s current financial problems

      Worth noting that the 60+ Oystercard was introduced by Boris in 2012

  3. ASLEF shrugged says:

    Scrapping Freedom Passes wouldn’t save TfL anything, London Councils – the organisation that represents all 32 borough councils – pays for them with the money split between TfL and ATOC.

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