1. Transport
October 30, 2019

Green Party AM Caroline Russell: How Sadiq Khan’s fare freeze is no such thing

By Caroline Russell

A Green Party member of the London Assembly on the case for fairer fares.

You may well have noticed that you’re paying more for your travel than you think you should be. You are right: fares are continuing to rise despite the mayor’s fares freeze.

The mayor will claim that he has helped Londoners out by freezing (that is, not increasing) the single fares on buses, tubes and trams. But while this may initially look good on paper, it is no good if you’re living in zone 4 and rely on a zone 1-4 travelcard that’s gone up £250 since 2016. Even if you’ve moved to pay as you go, the daily and weekly caps are set from the same travelcard pricing, so you will in effect still be paying more.

Travelcard sales are rapidly declining as their cost increases. Despite this, Londoners continue to pay travelcard rates for their travel when they reach a daily or weekly cap using Oyster cards and contactless payment. This means that many people are not feeling the benefits of this freeze. Although the mayor has often stated that 96 per cent of passengers benefit from the fares freeze, he has previously admitted that half of all travellers are paying fares at the travelcard rates via travelcards and caps.

It can sometimes be tricky to work out what is the best way to pay for a journey, and the different fare structures can be confusing. But I’ve done some detailed analysis on the numbers that show that the fares freeze is not all that it is cracked up to be. My analysis shows that people with travelcards are each paying around £200 more a year than they were in 2016 for their travel. The below map shows how much more Londoners in each zone will be paying a year for their travel in to central London.

It is a shame that the cost of public transport for many Londoners is in fact increasing, while the costs associated with driving in central London have stayed largely the same. The mayor has kept the Congestion Charge frozen at its current rate since 2014, and even though he has introduced an additional small ULEZ charge, fuel duty for drivers has also been frozen by the government for nine years in a row.

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Earlier this year I found that a quarter of people in outer London felt forced into car ownership. This is due not only to a lack of services, but the fares people pay as well. It’s unsurprising that 24 per cent of Londoners say they dislike the excessive cost of transport in London, and a third say they would use public transport more if it wasn’t so expensive.

The above table gives a breakdown of each of the fare zones and how much the price of commuting in from each zone has increased since 2016. A nurse who commutes from East Croydon in zone 5 to St Bartholomew’s Hospital in zone 1 is paying £299 a year more than they were in 2016 to get to work. Similarly, a nurse commuting in from West Drayton in zone 6 would be paying £317.40 more a year than they were in 2016.

The mayor should use every power he has to keep transport in London affordable, especially for those on lower incomes. Ever higher costs for travelcards are taking up a larger proportion of Londoners’ income. The mayor should seriously consider extending the discounts he offers to other key workers, such as nurses, as the Royal College of Nursing has suggested.

Travel costs have been soaring under Mayor Sadiq Khan. He needs to be more radical in how he deals with fares, to make sure that his (apparent) so-called fares freeze actually benefits Londoners.

Caroline Russell is a Green Party member of the London Assembly.

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