Sadiq Khan would find “totally unacceptable” government conditions on a new TfL funding deal such as extending the congestion charge zone to the North and South Circular roads or “taking free travel away from children and older people” according to a source close to the Mayor, as negotiations continue over a new short-term funding settlement for the capital’s transport body.
The comment was in response to a Sky News report informed by a leak from the Department for Transport, which says those measures are among the strings the government wants to attach to £1 billion of funding, along with increases in existing public transport fares. The mayoral source said Khan “would not ask Londoners to accept them in these exceptionally difficult times.”
The strong words underline the Mayor’s frustration with the direction of discussions, something he hinted at Mayor’s Question time earlier today. “Back in May, I said the [previous emergency] deal was a sticking plaster,” he said. “I appreciate that there are competing demands and difficult choices to be made in all of this under great time pressure, but I fear we are yet again on course for a short term make-do-and-mend fix.”
A sum of £1 billion would fall far short of the £5.7 billion total TfL is seeking to keep it going for the next 18 months. Khan contrasted TfL’s treatment with that of the country’s privately-owned train operating companies, which were given “an 18-month bailout which allows them to make a profit.”
He and child poverty groups have campaigned vigorously against what the first bailout termed a “temporary” suspension of free travel for nuder-18s, which TfL has said cannot happen before next spring due to the technology challenge it presents.
On London understands that Andrew Gilligan, a journalist friend and supporter of Johnson who has been made the Prime Minister’s special transport adviser, was closely involved with pressuring TfL to suspend the concession to young people, which the government originally wanted to take place in the spring. It later expressed the hope that it could happen this month, after half term.
Free travel for people aged 60 and above was withdrawn before 9:00 as a condition of the May bailout, affecting both holders of the local authority-funded Older Person’s Freedom Pass and the 60+ London Oyster photocard, a concession introduced by Johnson when he was Mayor in 2012 after the government raised the age for Freedom Pass eligibility.
As Mayor, Johnson halved the size of the congestion charge zone by removing its western extension in December 2010 and twice raised the level of the charge for the remaining original Central London zone area during his eight years at City Hall. Khan’s 2016 election manifesto pledged not to increase the charge if elected.
Khan said at MQT that it is clear that “passenger numbers are not going to return to pre-pandemic levels any time soon,” and reiterated that “Covid-19 has left TfL dangerously exposed” given its high dependency on fare income.
“TfL cannot invest in London’s future when we don’t know where the next pound is coming from,” he said. “A drip-feed approach to funding might suit the government, but it would be catastrophic for London and our country.”
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