The government has told Transport for London it wants free travel for the capital’s 11-17 year-olds temporarily suspended from “immediately after October half term”.
In letter, Department for Transport (DfT) minister Baroness Vere of Norbiton says, “I can confirm that we would like” the measure to be implemented from that time, with exemptions for children who live more than two miles from their school or college or have particular difficulties or needs.
The temporary suspension of the public transport concession was one a string of conditions attached to the government’s financial bailout of TfL in May, which also included making proposals for increasing the level and operating hours of the congestion charge and a programme of “active travel” schemes.
The letter, written to TfL’s managing director, customers, Vernon Everitt, appears to acknowledge TfL’s concern that there were practical difficulties with bringing forward the suspension sooner, as it thanks two senior officers for their attempts to find a way to introduce it for 16 and 17-year-olds by 6 September, which it describes as the start of the new school year. The Baroness writes: “However, this work should now be stopped and reversed in order to ensure that free travel is still available in its current format until the end of October half term”.
Sadiq Khan has been campaigning for the condition to be removed, arguing that it will penalise less well-off students. Reacting to the delay, Liberal Democrat AM Caroline Pidgeon, who chairs the London Assembly’s transport committee said: “Instead of pushing ahead with this foolish policy at a later date it is now time to drop this entirely. The government’s admission that the suspension of free travel for 11-17 year olds can only be implemented after the October half term simply shows that their initial proposals were misguided, complex and simply wrong”.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said in June that the Mayor will be able to restore the concession “in the long term, once the [TfL] finances are resolved”, though it is unclear when that position will be reached.
In response to Everitt seeking clarification about which 11-17 year olds will continue to be eligible for free travel, Baroness Norbiton listed in addition to those who live two miles or more from their school:
- children and have a social worker or an education health and care plan
- children in “alternative provision”, such as a pupil referral unit or “an alternative provision academy/free school”.
- children who do not have a safe walking route or “cannot walk due to a medical condition of lack of mobility”.
The minister’s letter adds that for the October suspension deadline to be met it is “vital that DfT and TfL continue to work closely and collaboratively together, and with other key stakeholders, including the Department for Education, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and London Councils”. It continues: “I would be grateful if TfL could confirm what needs to be true in order to meet this deadline and what my officials can do to facilitate this”. The minister expresses a “very strong preference” for “an Oyster smartcard solution”.
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