Gareth Bacon is the Leader of the Conservative Group on the London Assembly.
A month ago Sadiq Khan was elected Mayor. A key pledge, in fact THE key pledge, of his campaign, was that he would freeze all fares for 4 years. From January The Mayor was asked about this promise hundreds of times. Repeatedly he made clear that freezing fares was a categorical, unconditional pledge.
Indeed, page 8 of his manifesto stated:
“Freeze TfL transport fares for four years and introduce a one-hour bus ‘Hopper’ ticket, paid for by making TfL more efficient and exploring new revenue-raising opportunities. Londoners won’t pay a penny more for their travel in 2020 than they do today.”
Polling showed that this was, unsurprisingly, a popular pledge. Many Londoners cited it as the reason that they planned to vote for Sadiq Khan. Even those who did not plan to vote Labour looked forward to the delivery of a promise that they assumed had been made too loudly and too clearly to be ignored.
This week Sadiq Khan put out a press release making clear that his promised fares freeze will not apply to weekly, monthly or annual Travelcards, or daily and weekly price caps. Millions of commuting Londoners use Travelcards or benefit from these fares caps – so they will never see this freeze. At Mayor’s Question Time two weeks ago, we saw Sadiq Khan row back on six of his election pledges. On Tuesday his Deputy Mayor for Housing backpedalled on the Mayor’s promise that half of all new home would be affordable. However the fares announcement puts all the other broken pledges in the shade.
We will never know precisely how much of an impact the “fares freeze” promise had on the Mayoral election. We do know that it would have been incredibly easy for the Conservatives to match it, but we did not because we knew it would be undeliverable without hacking away at necessary infrastructure investment. Even with this bastardised form of the fares freeze, it is hard to believe that Sadiq Khan’s union paymasters will allow him to make some of the sensible savings that could be made within TfL. So there is a real risk of cuts that undermine London’s chances of making the improvements to London’s transport system that we need.
Furthermore a freeze that does not include Travelcards will disproportionately hit South Londoners as the Tube is far less extensive South of the river. Those of us who remember Ken Livingstone’s grossly misnamed “Fares Fair” policy might allow ourselves a bitter chuckle of recognition as Labour’s new Mayor acts as if South London does not matter.
It is hard to reach any conclusion other than that the Mayor was happy to say anything to get elected and now he’s Mayor he’s very happy to ignore any promise that is inconvenient. He should now come clean with Londoners about which parts of his manifesto were not worth the paper on which they were printed.