Boris has the choice to freeze fares. He just won’t do it.
Boris has the choice to freeze fares. He just won’t do it
Boris’ belated Christmas present to Londoners is yet another fare increase. Getting the New Year off to a bad start, the Mayor’s 2.5 per cent increase imposed on commuters means that Londoner’s have now endured seven years of increased transport costs. Many tell me they are struggling to cope with the increased burden.
A report I’ve published today, ‘The case for a Fare Freeze’, has found that a huge 76 per cent of Londoners responding to say that fares are ‘too high’, with just 0.5 per cent believing they are too low. Yet despite that Boris is intent on pushing fares up.
Whilst this is highly concerning, sadly I am not surprised. Under Boris, fares in the capital are rising much faster than people’s wages, leaving many Londoners struggling to make ends meet. The fact that one woman from Barnet said fare “increases are making living and working in London nearly impossible” shows how stark the problem has become.
Another commuter in Newham said: “I have to assist my son all the time to buy his weekly bus pass as his wages are too small to purchase a bus pass and buy food.”
What concerns me is that these responses are not unusual. When I’m talking to people on the doorstep, many of my constituents tell me that they are deeply concerned that their pay-cheques cannot stretch to cover the increased transport costs.
In total, fares have increased by a staggering 40 per cent under Boris Johnson. Yet Londoners are suffering unnecessarily. Boris has the choice to freeze fares. It’s achievable. He just won’t do it.
In his first five budgets, Boris overestimated Transport for London’s operating costs and underestimated his income from fares significantly. To be specific, operating costs were £1,069m lower than expected and income from fares was £235m higher than expected, a trend we expect to continue this year.
Instead of forcing commuters to spend yet more of their pay-cheque on travelling to work, Boris could make use some of this surplus to freeze fares. Doing so would greatly reduce the pressure on those on lower incomes.
Yet, whilst money is tight, Boris’ only resolution has been to take more from Londoners’ pockets. Meanwhile, TfL is expected to be sitting on millions in underspends and additional fares income.
It’s baffling that Boris would allow fare increases to outstrip wage growth, when he could freeze fares immediately by making use of £98m of that better than expected fare income. This would allow for a year-long fare freeze at 2014 levels without hitting TfL’s capital expenditure or reserves.
It’s also a matter of equality. Fare rises disproportionately hit bus users. Whilst tube fares have jumped 37 per cent under Boris Johnson, bus fares have increased by almost half (47 per cent). This at the same time as rampant overcrowding and falling growth – a clear ‘pay more, get less’ approach to the bus network.
Londoners have to wait until 2016 before they can elect a new Mayor. The successful candidate will then have the opportunity to map out a four year plan for their fares strategy across their term of office.
Until then, it is vital commuters in the capital are given some much needed respite from rising travel costs.
Boris has the option to do this, without harming the network’s upgrade and extension plans. He has the option to listen to the vast majority of Londoners who say their fares are simply too high.
They say a new year is an opportunity for a fresh start, if only the Mayor had got the message.
Val Shawcross is London Assembly member for Lambeth and Southwark and transport spokeswoman for the London Assembly Labour Group. Follow her on Twitter
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