You can read plenty about Boris Johnson’s rather impressive hikes in TfL’s fares today elsewhere. With many of the increases coming in at more than 18 times the current rate of CPI, describing them as ‘inflation-busting’ would be like calling Richard Littlejohn ‘moderately right-wing’. And, worryingly for our jovial Mayor, for all his attempts to pass the blame for the increases off as being the fault of Ken Livingstone, the quite correct notion that Johnson inherited healthy TfL reserves and has bought this for the most part on himself is gaining traction. As Dave Cole notes, the extra revenue to be raised by the incredible 20% increase in Oyster Pay-as-You-Go fares on buses fits very neatly into the £50-£70m hole left by the removal of the Western Extension of the Congestion Charge.
Combine that with the decision not to proceed with the Gas-guzzler Charge, the end of the Venezuela oil deal, the scrapping of bendy buses and the advent of the neo-Routemaster – all at a time of falling fare-box income thanks to economic circumstances pertaining – and you begin to see where the hole comes from. And that’s why Boris is coming after you with his hat.
And when I say ‘you’, I mean ‘you’ (possibly), not ‘me’. One thing you won’t see much of in the coverage of the new fare regime is a complaint that you aren’t paying enough. Well, here’s one. The 2010 TfL fare settlement is too lenient on me – and on people like me. And it makes me sick. The graph at the top of this post may give you an idea why.
In his wisdom, Boris Johnson has decided that the one set of fares that need to be frozen at this time are (almost all) weekly, monthly and annual Travelcards. To briefly defend the Mayor, part of the cost of the Travelcards is set via DfT-controlled National Rail fares, which will fall by 0.4% this year. Thus it could be argued that TfL is in fact raising its Travelcard fares this year – but only be a infinitesimal amount.
I commute daily from zone 3 into zone 1, using the mainline train, with a bus-Underground combination in standby. Because I am lucky enough to be in a reasonably well paid job, I can afford to pay the £1,208 for an Annual Travelcard. Were I a little less well off, but still having a reasonable amount of cash in my pocket, I could instead buy monthly or weekly Travelcards. Overall, these would cost me more than the Annual card, but I’d save on paying for individual journeys.
Well, the Mayor has decided to reward people like me. Inflation is low, but it is not non-existant – CPI is currently running at 1.1% (and indeed, was at 1.6% when this fare package was being put together). For my fares to stand still in real terms, my ticket price should be going up to around £1221. Instead, it is standing still: so, in real terms a cut of a little over £13. If I purchased monthly or weekly travelcards, that cut would be in the region of £14 and £15 respectively over the course of the year. TfL, therefore, is almost certainly going to make less money from me in 2010 than it did in 2009: a rather strange decision from a supposedly cash-strapped organisation, you might think.
So, where is the cash coming from instead? Well, with a Tory at the helm of TfL, you probably don’t need to think too long to answer that. Yep, the low-paid. With the Underground and mainline rail being relatively costly forms of transport, those on a limited income are likely to take the bus – and if you’ve ever taken the 188 or the 53 out towards South East London you’ll know there are plenty of people who use these services for very long commutes. And it’s for them that this fare package is really going to hit home. If you use your Oyster Card on Pay-as-you-Go to make two journeys per working day (c.235 per annum), your yearly travel bill will rise in real terms by £88.83. If you are able to afford a weekly bus and tram pass, you’ll be paying a whopping £124.47 extra (again, in real terms). So that is where the money is coming from to pay for my reduced fares.
Sure, Johnson is keeping the raft of mainly Livingstone-era concessionary fares mainly in place. That is to his credit. But in this recession, it is often those falling just above income support level who are suffering most. If they use public transport, they are most likely to be bus users: and it is to them that Johnson – who claims to be trying to help Londoners through the recession – has just delivered a massive smack in the face.
I’m not trying to claim that every Travelcard holder is rolling in cash. Any significant rise would be painful for many. But I doubt that Johnson doesn’t have the data to hand to show where the socio-economic split falls in terms of travel modes. If pain is to be had, it needs to be shared a round a bit, not just aimed at those least able to take it. The Mayor needs to think again. Simply raising my Travelcard by the rate of inflation would help a bit. But if it is necessary for most passengers who can’t afford to pay months in advance to suffer an increase well above 10%, then raise it a bit more. Otherwise this just looks like a bribe taken from the poor and thrown in the direction of the more Boris-amenable suburbs. I’ve nothing against using transport policy as an agency of redistribution – Livingstone showed that in a limited way it can be done. I do object to it being used to redistribute wealth back to the wealthy.