Podcast: Going underground

Mmmmmm. Tube map. Image: TfL.

This week, I'm all about pushing the envelope and breaking new ground. So here's an entire podcast about the Tube.

First up, the clever bit. One time CityMetric James O'Malley has since blossomed into the editor of Gizmodo UK. Earlier this year, he caused a bit of a splash with his scoop about how Transport for London has been using wifi data to track passengers – to find out how people actually move around London Underground.

So – what are TfL playing at? How will this sort of thing help transport authorities redesign their networks? Should we be worried? And are all the signs at King’s Cross such lies?

Then, the less clever bit: I'm joined by Stephen Bush so we can slug it out to debate the official CityMetric ranking of the London Underground lines. This was meant to be a short, jokey segment to end on. Reader, it did not turn out that way. Apart from anything else, it takes us a surprisingly long time to agree on what counts as a line.

Before we go, a spot of housekeeping. This is our 48th podcast. For number 50, Stephanie has kindly agreed to come back, and in a change from our regular format, we want you lot to ask us things. If you have any burning questions, you can tweet us at @jonnelledge and @stephanieboland.

The episode itself is below. You can subscribe to the podcast on AcastiTunes, or RSS. Enjoy.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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Sadiq Khan and Grant Shapps clash over free bus travel for under 18s

A London bus at Victoria station. Image: Getty.

The latest front in the row between Transport for London (TfL) and national government over how to fund the capital’s transport system: free bus travel for the under 18s.

Two weeks ago, you’ll recall, TfL came perilously close to running out of money and was forced to ask for a bail out. The government agreed, but offered less money, and with more strings attached, than the agency wanted. At present, there are a range of fare discounts – some up to 100% – available to children depending on their age and which service they’re using, provided they have the right Oyster card. One of the government’s strings, the mayor’s office says, was to end all free TfL travel for the under 18s, Oyster or no Oyster.

The Department for Transport’s line on all this is that this is about maximising capacity. Many working-age people need to use buses to get to their jobs: they’re more likely to be able to do that, while also social distancing, if those buses aren’t already full of teenagers riding for free. (DfT cited the same motivation for banning the use of the Freedom Pass, which provides free travel for the retired, at peak times.)

But in an open letter to transport secretary Grant Shapps, the mayor, Sadiq Khan, wrote that TfL believed that 30% of children who currently received free travel had a statutory entitlement to it, because they attend schools more than a certain distance from their homes. If TfL doesn’t fund this travel, London’s boroughs must, which apart from loading costs onto local government means replacing an administrative system that already exists with one that doesn’t. 

Some Labour staffers also smell Tory ideological objections to free things for young people at work. To quote Khan’s letter:

“It is abundantly clear that losing free travel would hit the poorest Londoners hardest at a time when finances are stretched more than ever... I want to make sure that families who might not have a choice but to use public transport are not further disadvantaged.”

London’s deputy mayor for transport, Heidi Alexander, is set to meet government officials next week to discuss all this. In the mean time, you can read Khan’s letter here.

UPDATE: The original version of this piece noted that the full agreement between the mayor and DfT remained mysteriously unpublished. Shortly after this story went live, the agreement appeared. Here it is.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.