London’s capital celebration of 50 years of transport Freedom

Former GLC councillor DAVID WHITE, pictured right, looks back to a scheme that revolutionised travel for generations of Londoners and ahead to a 50th birthday event this weekend

It is 50 years since the Freedom Pass transformed getting around the capital for millions of older and disabled Londoners, and there is to be a rally this Saturday to mark the occasion where transport workers’ union leader Mick Lynch and Labour MP John McDonnell will be among the speakers.

All aboard: the Freedom Pass is 50 years old this month

The Freedom Pass allows free travel on London’s public transport for older and disabled people. It was introduced in 1973 by the then Labour-run Greater London Council.

In September 1973, I was a newly elected councillor on the GLC, representing Croydon Central. In the election earlier in the year, Labour had stood on a radical manifesto which included free travel for the elderly and a low-fare scheme for other passengers.

Labour also promised to end the previous Tory plan to build urban motorways in London which would have destroyed thousands of homes.

Labour wasn’t able to implement all its promises, but got pretty close. Ringways 1 and 2, the Tory motorways, were scrapped. Instead, measures were introduced to benefit pedestrians, cyclists and public transport passengers.

In Croydon, we scrapped the local Tory council’s plans to widen a whole series of roads (including Park Lane, Southbridge Road, Sumner Road and St James’s Road). What is now called Roman Way was narrowed – the first time a newly built multi-lane road got the go-ahead for narrowing.

The icing on the cake was the Freedom Pass, although it only acquired that name a bit later. To begin with, it was for elderly people using the buses, but it was later extended to cover the London Underground and Network Rail services. And it was extended to cover certain groups of disabled people.

Southwark speaker: the RMT’s Mick Lynch is among those expected at the Freedom Pass rally this Saturday

The low flat-fare scheme for other passengers unfortunately did not go ahead.

Instead, the GLC put fares up, citing problems in the national economy caused by the oil crisis and high inflation. This move was opposed by eight members of the Labour group on the GLC, including Ken Livingstone (also a newly elected member at that time) and myself.

The Freedom Pass has of course been a major success, allowing elderly and disabled people freedom of movement which many would not have otherwise had. It also reduced car use in the capital.

There will be a celebration of the Freedom Pass’s 50th anniversary at Southwark Park this coming Saturday (September 23) at 11am. This will be exactly 50 years since Sir Reg Goodwin, Labour leader of the GLC, launched the scheme in that very same park.

The celebration is being organised by Peter Walker, a former Croydon councillor who in 1973 was head of the leader’s office at the GLC.

There’s a great line-up of speakers at the event, including John McDonnell MP, Mick Lynch, General Secretary of the RMT, and representatives of a number of public transport organisations.

Do come along to the event. It should be a great day out, as well as celebrating something worthwhile. Southwark Park is near to Canada Water Station, which is directly accessible from West Croydon.

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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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