Podcast: Why aye, man

The Tyne bridges. Image: Getty.

You’ll be delighted, I’m sure, to learn this podcast is not about Brexit.

I’ve been in Newcastle, capital in the north east of England, for a couple of days: partly for work, partly just because I wanted to get out of London for a bit, and it was the largest British city I’d never been to, and people kept telling me it was cool.

And it is. It really, really is. Stunning architecture, great cultural offering, some seaside, a metro and the best collection of bridges you will find pretty much anywhere. You should go there at once.

So – why did it take me so long? Or to put it another way: why don’t we talk about it more? To find out, and to discuss the region and its politics more broadly, I spoke to local journalist Chris Stokel-Walker, and recorded it on my phone.

While I’m here, some housekeeping. This is sort of a good news/bad news thing. The bad news is that Skylines is going fortnightly: I’m moving to a new role, and just won’t have time to put out a podcast every week any more. If there’s enough of an outcry - or even better, desperate promises of cash - we may reconsider this decision in the new year; but for the next few months at least we’re cutting back.

The good news is that it isn’t going anywhere: we’ll still be talking about cities, transport and other such nerd ambrosia. And the even better news is we’re getting a proper producer, so it should sound better than it does when I’m in editing it.

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 on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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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.