Sadiq Khan has blamed the Government for forcing him to hike public transport fares in London as a condition of a £1.6 billion bail out – even though he announced a price increase before the coronavirus outbreak.
Amid mounting criticism of the London mayor’s handling of Covid-19 in the capital, it has emerged that Mr Khan had already agreed for fares to rise by at least three per cent from January 2021.
Transport for London’s (TfL) 2019 business statement, agreed by Mr Khan as its chair last year, states: “From January 2021, our plan assumes that fares will rise by around the retail price index (RPI) plus one per cent, to support vital investment in public transport.” RPI is currently 2.5 per cent.
On Tuesday, he tweeted: “The Govt is punishing Londoners for doing the right thing on Covid-19: forcing us to raise fares, widen the congestion charge, pause free travel for Freedom pass & over-60 card holders in peak hours & suspend free travel; for under 18’s. Nowhere else is being punished like this.”
A spokesman for the Mayor confirmed that he had called for a fares increase in March – but had revised it to being in line “with the cost of living”. He said bus fares should remain frozen.
But last night, a minister described Mr Khan as “incredibly irresponsible,” saying the bail out conditions required him to increase TfL’s income without specifying any timings or price rises.
The £11.50 daily levy for people driving into central London was suspended on March 23 when the lockdown was announced, but reintroduced on Monday. Next month the fee will rise to £15 and the hours of operation will be extended to cover Saturdays and Sundays. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is said to be “furious” at his City Hall predecessor. “He thinks it’s shambolic,” an adviser said.
The minister blamed Mr Khan’s “populist” decision to freeze fares when he was elected Mayor four years ago on TfL’s troubled finances. “Rather than raising fares a bit each year and thereby have money for a rainy day, instead he’s effectively failed to collect £700m and now wants the taxpayer to bail him out,” the minister added. “It’s hard to see why taxpayers in less well off parts of the country should pay for his re-election campaign.”
As well as cancelling the congestion charge during the lockdown, Mr Khan also instructed passengers not to use contactless pay for buses with a sticker at the middle door saying “no need to pay”.