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.

 
 
 
 

Urgently needed: Timely, more detailed standardized data on US evictions

Graffiti asking for rent forgiveness is seen on a wall on La Brea Ave amid the Covid-19 pandemic in Los Angeles, California. (Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images)

Last week the Eviction Lab, a team of eviction and housing policy researchers at Princeton University, released a new dashboard that provides timely, city-level US eviction data for use in monitoring eviction spikes and other trends as Covid restrictions ease. 

In 2018, Eviction Lab released the first national database of evictions in the US. The nationwide data are granular, going down to the level of a few city blocks in some places, but lagged by several years, so their use is more geared toward understanding the scope of the problem across the US, rather than making timely decisions to help city residents now. 

Eviction Lab’s new Eviction Tracking System, however, provides weekly updates on evictions by city and compares them to baseline data from past years. The researchers hope that the timeliness of this new data will allow for quicker action in the event that the US begins to see a wave of evictions once Covid eviction moratoriums are phased out.

But, due to a lack of standardization in eviction filings across the US, the Eviction Tracking System is currently available for only 11 cities, leaving many more places facing a high risk of eviction spikes out of the loop.

Each city included in the Eviction Tracking System shows rolling weekly and monthly eviction filing counts. A percent change is calculated by comparing current eviction filings to baseline eviction filings for a quick look at whether a city might be experiencing an uptick.

Timely US eviction data for a handful of cities is now available from the Eviction Lab. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

The tracking system also provides a more detailed report on each city’s Covid eviction moratorium efforts and more granular geographic and demographic information on the city’s evictions.

Click to the above image to see a city-level eviction map, in this case for Pittsburgh. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

As part of their Covid Resource, the Eviction Lab together with Columbia Law School professor Emily Benfer also compiled a scorecard for each US state that ranks Covid-related tenant protection measures. A total of 15 of the 50 US states plus Washington DC received a score of zero because those states provided little if any protections.

CityMetric talked with Peter Hepburn, an assistant professor at Rutgers who just finished a two-year postdoc at the Eviction Lab, and Jeff Reichman, principal at the data science research firm January Advisors, about the struggles involved in collecting and analysing eviction data across the US.

Perhaps the most notable hurdle both researchers addressed is that there’s no standardized reporting of evictions across jurisdictions. Most evictions are reported to county-level governments, however what “reporting” means differs among and even within each county. 

In Texas, evictions go through the Justice of the Peace Courts. In Virginia they’re processed by General District Courts. Judges in Milwaukee are sealing more eviction case documents that come through their courtroom. In Austin, Pittsburgh and Richmond, eviction addresses aren’t available online but ZIP codes are. In Denver you have to pay about $7 to access a single eviction filing. In Alabama*, it’s $10 per eviction filing. 

Once the filings are acquired, the next barrier is normalizing them. While some jurisdictions share reporting systems, many have different fields and formats. Some are digital, but many are images of text or handwritten documents that require optical character recognition programs and natural language processors in order to translate them into data. That, or the filings would have to be processed by hand. 

“There's not enough interns in the world to do that work,” says Hepburn.


Aggregating data from all of these sources and normalizing them requires knowledge of the nuances in each jurisdiction. “It would be nice if, for every region, we were looking for the exact same things,” says Reichman. “Instead, depending on the vendor that they use, and depending on how the data is made available, it's a puzzle for each one.”

In December of 2019, US Senators Michael Bennet of Colorado and Rob Portman of Ohio introduced a bill that would set up state and local grants aimed at reducing low-income evictions. Included in the bill is a measure to enhance data collection. Hepburn is hopeful that the bill could one day mean an easier job for those trying to analyse eviction data.

That said, Hepburn and Reichman caution against the public release of granular eviction data. 

“In a lot of cases, what this gets used for is for tenant screening services,” says Hepburn. “There are companies that go and collect these data and make them available to landlords to try to check and see if their potential tenants have been previously evicted, or even just filed against for eviction, without any sort of judgement.”

According to research by Eviction Lab principal Matthew Desmond and Tracey Shollenberger, who is now vice president of science at Harvard’s Center for Policing Equity, residents who have been evicted or even just filed against for eviction often have a much harder time finding equal-quality housing in the future. That coupled with evidence that evictions affect minority populations at disproportionate rates can lead to widening racial and economic gaps in neighborhoods.

While opening up raw data on evictions to the public would not be the best option, making timely, granular data available to researchers and government officials can improve the system’s ability to respond to potential eviction crises.

Data on current and historical evictions can help city officials spot trends in who is getting evicted and who is doing the evicting. It can help inform new housing policy and reform old housing policies that may put more vulnerable citizens at undue risk.

Hepburn says that the Eviction Lab is currently working, in part with the ACLU, on research that shows the extent to which Black renters are disproportionately affected by the eviction crisis.

More broadly, says Hepburn, better data can help provide some oversight for a system which is largely unregulated.

“It's the Wild West, right? There's no right to representation. Defendants have no right to counsel. They're on their own here,” says Hepburn. “I mean, this is people losing their homes, and they're being processed in bulk very quickly by the system that has very little oversight, and that we know very little about.”

A 2018 report by the Philadelphia Mayor’s Taskforce on Eviction Prevention and Response found that of Philadelphia’s 22,500 eviction cases in 2016, tenants had legal representation in only 9% of them.

Included in Hepburn’s eviction data wishlist is an additional ask, something that is rarely included in any of the filings that the Eviction Lab and January Advisors have been poring over for years. He wants to know the relationship between money owed and monthly rent.

“At the individual level, if you were found to owe $1,500, was that on an apartment that's $1,500 a month? Or was it an apartment that's $500 a month? Because that makes a big difference in the story you're telling about the nature of the crisis, right? If you're letting somebody get three months behind that's different than evicting them immediately once they fall behind,” Hepburn says.

Now that the Eviction Tracking System has been out for a week, Hepburn says one of the next steps is to start reaching out to state and local governments to see if they can garner interest in the project. While he’s not ready to name any names just yet, he says that they’re already involved in talks with some interested parties.

*Correction: This story initially misidentified a jurisdiction that charges $10 to access an eviction filing. It is the state of Alabama, not the city of Atlanta. Also, at the time of publication, Peter Hepburn was an assistant professor at Rutgers, not an associate professor.

Alexandra Kanik is a data reporter at CityMetric.