Green Party AM Caroline Russell: How Sadiq Khan’s fare freeze is no such thing

The ticket hall at King's Cross St. Pancras. Image: Getty.

A Green Party member of the London Assembly on the case for fairer fares.

You may well have noticed that you’re paying more for your travel than you think you should be. You are right: fares are continuing to rise despite the mayor’s fares freeze.

The mayor will claim that he has helped Londoners out by freezing (that is, not increasing) the single fares on buses, tubes and trams. But while this may initially look good on paper, it is no good if you’re living in zone 4 and rely on a zone 1-4 travelcard that’s gone up £250 since 2016. Even if you’ve moved to pay as you go, the daily and weekly caps are set from the same travelcard pricing, so you will in effect still be paying more.

Travelcard sales are rapidly declining as their cost increases. Despite this, Londoners continue to pay travelcard rates for their travel when they reach a daily or weekly cap using Oyster cards and contactless payment. This means that many people are not feeling the benefits of this freeze. Although the mayor has often stated that 96 per cent of passengers benefit from the fares freeze, he has previously admitted that half of all travellers are paying fares at the travelcard rates via travelcards and caps.

It can sometimes be tricky to work out what is the best way to pay for a journey, and the different fare structures can be confusing. But I’ve done some detailed analysis on the numbers that show that the fares freeze is not all that it is cracked up to be. My analysis shows that people with travelcards are each paying around £200 more a year than they were in 2016 for their travel. The below map shows how much more Londoners in each zone will be paying a year for their travel in to central London.

It is a shame that the cost of public transport for many Londoners is in fact increasing, while the costs associated with driving in central London have stayed largely the same. The mayor has kept the Congestion Charge frozen at its current rate since 2014, and even though he has introduced an additional small ULEZ charge, fuel duty for drivers has also been frozen by the government for nine years in a row.

Earlier this year I found that a quarter of people in outer London felt forced into car ownership. This is due not only to a lack of services, but the fares people pay as well. It’s unsurprising that 24 per cent of Londoners say they dislike the excessive cost of transport in London, and a third say they would use public transport more if it wasn’t so expensive.

The above table gives a breakdown of each of the fare zones and how much the price of commuting in from each zone has increased since 2016. A nurse who commutes from East Croydon in zone 5 to St Bartholomew's Hospital in zone 1 is paying £299 a year more than they were in 2016 to get to work. Similarly, a nurse commuting in from West Drayton in zone 6 would be paying £317.40 more a year than they were in 2016.

The mayor should use every power he has to keep transport in London affordable, especially for those on lower incomes. Ever higher costs for travelcards are taking up a larger proportion of Londoners’ income. The mayor should seriously consider extending the discounts he offers to other key workers, such as nurses, as the Royal College of Nursing has suggested.

Travel costs have been soaring under Mayor Sadiq Khan. He needs to be more radical in how he deals with fares, to make sure that his (apparent) so-called fares freeze actually benefits Londoners.

Caroline Russell is a Green Party member of the London Assembly.


Here’s a fantasy metro network for Birmingham & the West Midlands

Birmingham New Street. Image: Getty.

Another reader writes in with their fantasy transport plans for their city. This week, we’re off to Birmingham…

I’ve read with interest CityMetric’s previous discussion on Birmingham’s poor commuter service frequency and desire for a “Crossrail” (here and here). So I thought I’d get involved, but from a different angle.

There’s a whole range of local issues to throw into the mix before getting the fantasy metro crayons out. Birmingham New Street is shooting up the passenger usage rankings, but sadly its performance isn’t, with nearly half of trains in the evening rush hour between 5pm and 8pm five minutes or more late or even cancelled. This makes connecting through New Street a hit and, mainly, miss affair, which anyone who values their commuting sanity will avoid completely. No wonder us Brummies drive everywhere.

There are seven local station reopening on the cards, which have been given a helping hand by a pro-rail mayor. But while these are super on their own, each one alone struggles to get enough traffic to justify a frequent service (which is key for commuters); or the wider investment needed elsewhere to free up more timetable slots, which is why the forgotten cousin of freight gets pushed even deeper into the night, in turn giving engineering work nowhere to go at all.

Suburban rail is the less exciting cousin of cross country rail. But at present there’s nobody to “mind the gap” between regional cross-country focussed rail strategy , and the bus/tram orientated planning of individual councils. (Incidentally, the next Midland Metro extension, from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill, is expected to cost £450m for just 11km of tram. Ouch.)

So given all that, I decided to go down a less glamorous angle than a Birmingham Crossrail, and design a Birmingham  & Black Country Overground. Like the London Overground, I’ve tried to join up what we’ve already got into a more coherent service and make a distinct “line” out of it.

Click to expand. 

With our industrial heritage there are a selection of old alignments to run down, which would bring a suburban service right into the heart of the communities it needs to serve, rather than creating a whole string of “park & rides” on the periphery. Throw in another 24km of completely new line to close up the gaps and I’ve run a complete ring of railway all the way around Birmingham and the Black Country, joining up with HS2 & the airport for good measure – without too much carnage by the way of development to work around/through/over/under.

Click to expand. 

While going around with a big circle on the outside, I found a smaller circle inside the city where the tracks already exist, and by re-creating a number of old stations I managed to get within 800m of two major hospitals. The route also runs right under the Birmingham Arena (formerly the NIA), fixing the stunning late 1980s planning error of building a 16,000 capacity arena right in the heart of a city centre, over the railway line, but without a station. (It does have two big car parks instead: lovely at 10pm when a concert kicks out, gridlocks really nicely.)

From that redraw the local network map and ended up with...

Click to expand. 

Compare this with the current broadly hub-and-spoke network, and suddenly you’ve opened up a lot more local journey possibilities which you’d have otherwise have had to go through New Street to make. (Or, in reality, drive.) Yours for a mere snip at £3bn.

If you want to read more, there are detailed plans and discussion here (signup required).