By Theo Russell
KEN LIVINGSTONE, Labour’s London mayoral candidate, last week told his first major campaign rally, in Camden, that transport fares must be cut “on transport grounds to make the system more attractive, but also on economic grounds to put ordinary Londoners first by putting money back in the pockets that will boost the London economy.”
In the last two years fares have risen by 21 per cent – 13 per cent above inflation – and Tory mayor Boris Johnson plans another 20 years of above-inflation rises.
A single bus fare with an Oyster card has risen 56 per cent since 2008, and zone 1-6 travel cards 22 per cent, hitting Londoners already suffering the effects of recession.
Livingstone told 500 people at the Camden Centre in King’s Cross that if re-elected he would cut overall fares by five per cent in autumn 2012, with no increase in 2013. After that fares would rise by no more than RPI (Retail Price Index) inflation.
Livingstone has identified Johnson’s weak spot on transport – a £728 million Transport for London operating surplus in the last financial year, which is growing every year.
Johnson has scrapped plans for disabled access at 18 tube stations, indefinitely postponed upgrade work on the Piccadilly, Bakerloo and Central lines, and cancelled the Croydon Tramlink extension and Docklands Light Railway extension to Croydon and Dagenham.
London’s public transport is the most expensive in the world, but Johnson’s hatred of trade unions and mismanagement by his big business appointees have resulted in major delays on the underground almost daily, with only seven months to go before the Olympics.
The rally heard from young Labour supporters that Londoners are being forced to turn down job and education offers due to high fares. Yet Boris Johnson, who earns £430,000 as mayor, told a BBC interviewer that the £250,000 a year he gets for a weekly column in the Daily Telegraph was “chicken-feed” – a statement which surely ranks alongside Marie Antoinette’s “let them eat cake”.
Labour MP Tom Watson told the meeting: “No wonder he can’t understand what a seven per cent increase in transport costs (planned for January) means to ordinary Londoners”.
Livingstone said that in 2000-08 while he was mayor, n umbers of bus passengers rose by half while bus fares fell nine per cent, and tube fares rose by only 1.4 per cent. His bus strategy was so successful it was copied by cities across Britain.
London’s dilapidated, unreliable and poorly staffed overground rail network was also transformed under Livingstone with new stations, trains and tracks, service frequency doubled, and lines re-opened, and has just been voted Britain’s best railway.
As mayor Livingstone obtained £5 billion to build affordable homes in London, but although these were planned to be available by April 2012 Johnson is refusing to publish figures for new housing.
While house building has collapsed, Johnson and Tory and Lib-Dem run councils have drastically cut quotas for affordable homes in new developments.
Livingstone also plans to restore all Johnson’s policing cuts, including plans to axe 1,800 officers after the Olympics, and 900 lost through a recruitment freeze.