The politics of fair fares: from Livingstone to Khan

by Dave Hill

The tightening squeeze on Transport for London’s finances has generated a predictable political wrangle over Sadiq Khan’s fares policy, with opponents arguing that his partial freeze is to blame because it’s hitting TfL revenues. This invites the standard counter argument that were prices allowed to rise, fewer people would use public transport in the first place, making matters worse instead of better. The situation, though, is worsened by bus, Tube and rail riderships all falling off anyway, for a number of arguable reasons.

Pondering this predicament triggers memories of the biggest political dust-up over the capital’s public transport costs ever – the Fares Fair policy introduced by the Greater London Council in 1981 under the Labour leadership of future Mayor Ken Livingstone. A cut of around one third was introduced, paid for by an increase in the rates. The policy was challenged in the courts by Bromley Council and ruled illegal. Here’s Livingstone responding on Thames News. Note his closing remarks about the relationship between ridership, fares levels and subsidy.

The other man in the clip is Dave Wetzel, then the GLC’s public transport lead, and these days a member of the Green Party. Fares Fair was very popular among Londoners, but a later bold move on fares by Livingstone in 2011 when seeking to regain the mayoralty from Boris Johnson, harking back to Fares Fare, did not win over enough of them to put him back in City Hall. Nice video though.

Read more about Fares Fare here.




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