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.


This election is our chance to treat housing as a right – but only if we listen to tenants

The Churchill Gardens Estate, Westminster, London. Image: Getty.

“You’re joking, not another one... there’s too much politics going on at the moment..!”

Brenda of Bristol’s televised comments in 2017, when told that another election was to take place, could just as well have been uttered when MPs voted to call a general election for 12 December this year. 

Almost immediately the politicking began. “A chance to transform our country”. “An opportunity to stop Brexit/get Brexit done”. ‘We can end austerity and inequality.” “A new revitalised parliament.” “Another referendum.”

Yet dig behind the language of electioneering and, for the first time that I can recall, there is mention of solving the housing crisis by all the major parties. I can welcome another election, if the result is a determination to build enough homes to meet everyone’s needs and everyone’s pocket.

That will require those who come to power to recognise that our housing system has never been fit for purpose. It has never matched the needs of the nation. It is not an accident that homelessness is increasing; not an accident that families are living in overcrowded accommodation or temporary accommodation, sometimes for years; not an accident that rents are going up and the opportunities to buy property are going down. It is not an accident that social housing stock continues to be sold off. These are the direct result of policy decisions by successive governments.

So with all the major parties stating their good intentions to build more homes, how do we ensure their determination results in enough homes of quality where people want to live, work and play? By insisting that current and prospective tenants are involved in the planning and decision making process from the start.

“Involved” is the key word. When we build new homes and alter the environment we must engage with the local community and prospective tenants. It is their homes and their communities we are impacting – they need to be involved in shaping their lived space. That means involvement before the bull-dozer moves in; involvement at thinking and solution finding stages, and with architects and contractors. It is not enough to ask tenants and community members for their views on plans and proposals which have already been agreed by the board or the development committee of some distant housing provider.

As more homes for social and affordable rent become a reality, we need tenants to be partners at the table deciding on where, how and why they should be built there, from that material, and with those facilities. We need them to have an effective voice in decision making. This means working together with tenants and community members to create good quality homes in inclusive and imaginatively designed environments.

I am a tenant of Phoenix Community Housing, a social housing provider. I am also the current Chair and one of six residents on the board of twelve. Phoenix is resident led with tenants embedded throughout the organisation as active members of committees and onto policy writing and scrutiny.

Tenants are part of the decision making process as we build to meet the needs of the community. Our recently completed award-winning extra care scheme has helped older people downsize and released larger under-occupied properties for families.

By being resident led, we can be community driven. Our venture into building is small scale at the moment, but we are building quality homes that residents want and are appropriate to their needs. Our newest development is being built to Passivhaus standard, meaning they are not only more affordable but they are sustainable for future generations.

There are a few resident led organisations throughout the country. We don’t have all the answers to the housing situation, nor do we get everything right first time. We do know how to listen, learn and act.

The shocking events after the last election, when disaster came to Grenfell Tower, should remind us that tenants have the knowledge and ability to work with housing providers for the benefit of all in the community – if we listen to them and involve them and act on their input.

This election is an opportunity for those of us who see appropriate housing as a right; housing as a lived space in which to thrive and build community; housing as home not commodity – to hold our MPs to account and challenge them to outline their proposals and guarantee good quality housing, not only for the most vulnerable but for people generally, and with tenants fully involved from the start.

Anne McGurk is a tenant and chair of Phoenix Community Housing, London’s only major resident-led housing association.