Podcast: Lockdown

Is there anybody out there? Image: Getty.

Apologies for the fact this week’s podcast is a little bit late. But in my defence, both time and the calendar have lost all meaning.

Anyway. Something like a third of the world is currently in lockdown to deal with the coronavirus crisis, including Skylines’ little corner of it. So on the assumption that she didn’t have anywhere more fun to be right now, this seemed a good moment to invite my former co-host Stephanie Boland to Skype back into the podcast for the first time in about a year and a half. We discuss the strangeness of London, and its entirely empty transport system, in lockdown; how the UK government is doing at handling the crisis; and how it may, or may not, change the world and its politics.

If you enjoyed this one and are a relatively recent subscriber to Skylines, then why not check out some episodes from Stephanie’s era as co-host? You can hear more of her in episodes 15-38, plus 51, 63, 100, and probably some more that I’ve forgotten because it was ages ago.

On a different matter – the pandemic has meant a year’s delay to all this year’s English mayoral elections. That sadly means that the mayoral walks series is almost certainly finished, for the moment. But I nonetheless hope to persuade Sadiq Khan and Shaun Bailey to go for a walk with me at some point in the future. It’s good to have goals, isn’t it?

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

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

Skylines is produced by Nick Hilton.



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.