Should Croydon be in zone 4? A brief investigation of the TfL fare zones

Andrew Adonis – peer of the realm, arch remainer, former transport secretary, would-be Labour MP for Vauxhall – has been to Croydon. More than that he’s been thinking about Croydon, which is always dangerous. Here’s what he’s been thinking:

 

Some background, in the unlikely event you’ve landed on this story without knowing what “zone 4” means. Transport for London divides its tube and rail network into concentric fare zones. Zone 1 is the central business district, 2 & 3 are inner London, 4 to 6 are the suburbs. On selected routes beyond the official bounds of the capital, you’ll find stations in zones 7 to 9, as well as assorted lettered ones where the fares are weird, but that’s by the by: the rule, basically, is that the closer into the city you are, the lower the zone number and the lower the fare you have to pay.

Croydon, a south London/Surrey suburb that would be a sizeable city in its own right had it not long ago been swallowed by London, has two rail stations in its commercial centre. East Croydon is a stop on the London to Brighton line; West Croydon is served primarily by suburban services. Both are currently in zone 5.

On Adonis’ second point I tend to agree. The names East and West Croydon bug me for the faintly esoteric reason that

    a) they’re both in central Croydon, and

    b) phrasing them that way around suggests the two are a long way apart rather than about half a mile from each other.

Personally I’d go with Croydon East and Croydon West, but if local worthies want to call the bigger station Croydon Central then, well, fill your boots.

The other point, though, is more complicated. If you commute between central London and Croydon then it’s obviously in your interests to bring it down a zone as that’ll nudge it into a cheaper fare band. That, in turn, stands to benefit businesses who employ those commuters or are trying to attract south Londoners to spend money in the town.

Does it make sense, though? Is Croydon actually close enough to central London to justify being in zone 4?

To find out, I just spend an oddly therapeutic quarter hour measuring the distance between various important outer London centres and Charing Cross, the official centre of London. Here are the results, ranked by distance in miles, and with the fare zone included:

Logically, given the concentric nature of the London fare zones, you would expect the zone numbers to increase steadily as the distance from the city centre does, and for the most part they do. Not always, though: Kingston is marooned in zone 6 despite being a distance from Charing Cross more appropriate for zone 5.

Meanwhile, Epsom and Dartford, contiguous suburbs outside the Greater London boundary, fall out of the main system into the freaky outer zones, despite being closer in than Uxbridge. But Epping, several miles beyond the boundary and even outside the M25, gets to be in zone 6 because of a special arrangement between TfL and the local authorities.

There are several reasons for such oddities. One is that the idea Charing Cross is the centre of London is merely a useful fiction: London doesn’t really have a centre, so much as a lozenge-shaped central zone, running roughly three miles north to south and six east to west. Measurements from Charing Cross, convenient though they are, might be misleading.

Another is that Greater London itself is similarly unbalanced: that’s about 32 miles east to west but only 26 north to south.

Image: Wikimedia Commons, based on Ordnance Survey data.

A third is that its boundaries owe as much to the local politics of the early 1960s as they do to any rational sense of what London is. The only reason Epsom ended up outside, despite being an entirely suburban district surrounded by Greater London on three sides, is because the local Tories kicked up a stink half a century ago. (More on that here.) That, perversely, means higher fares for the locals today.


Anyway. You can make a case for Croydon being better placed in zone 4 than 5 but it isn’t an overwhelming one: Kingston has a far better case for promotion. Which is a bit of a wet conclusion, if I’m honest with you, but then again I really just wanted an excuse to play with a map.

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

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In South Africa's cities, evictions are happening despite a national ban

An aerial view shows a destroyed house in Lawley, south of Johannesburg, on April 20, 2020. The city has been demolishing informal structures on vacant land despite a moratorium on evictions. (Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images)

On the morning of 15 July, a South African High Court judge ruled that the city of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit had illegally evicted a man when it destroyed the shack where he was living.

That afternoon, the Anti-Land Invasion Unit was out again, removing shacks in another informal settlement.

Evictions were banned in South Africa for nine weeks, after the national government placed the country under a strict Covid-19 lockdown in late March. At present, eviction orders are automatically suspended until the country moves to a lower “alert level” and can only be carried out with a special order from a judge.

Yet major cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini (created through the merger of Durban with several surrounding communities), have continued to use municipal law enforcement agencies and private security companies to remove people from informal housing. In many cases those operations have been conducted without a court order – something required under regular South African law.

Around 900 people were evicted from three informal settlements in eThekwini during the eviction ban, according to the Church Land Programme, a local NGO. Its director, Graham Philpott, says it’s also aware of evictions in other informal settlements.

While evictions aren’t a “new experience” in these communities, the NGO released a report on lockdown evictions because they were “so explicitly illegal”. “There was a moratorium in place,” Philpott says, “and the local municipality acted quite flagrantly against it. There’s no confusion, there’s no doubt whatsoever, it is illegal. But it is part of a trend where the eThekwini municipality has acted illegally in evicting the poor from informal settlements.”

Evictions also took place in Cape Town and Johannesburg during so-called “hard lockdown” according to local activists. In eThekwini and other municipalities, the evictions have continued despite restrictions. In Cape Town, authorities pulled a naked man, Bulelani Qholani, from his shack. That incident, which was captured on video, drew condemnation from the national government and four members of the Anti-Land Invasion unit were suspended. 


The cities say they’re fighting “land invasions” – illegal occupations without permission from the land owner.

“Land invasions derail housing and service projects, lead to the pollution of waterways, severely prejudice deserving housing beneficiaries and cause property owners to lose their investments over night,” Cape Town’s executive mayor, Dan Plato said in a statement. (Plato has also claimed that Qholani did not live in the shack he was pulled from and that he disrobed when municipal authorities arrived.)

South African municipalities often claim that the shacks they destroy are unoccupied. 

If they were occupied, says Msawakhe Mayisela, a spokesman for the eThekwini municipality, the city would get a court order before conducting an eviction. “Everything we’re doing is within the ambit of the law,” Mayisela says. But “rogue elements” are taking advantage of Covid-19, he added.

“We fully understand that people are desperately in need of land, but the number of people that are flocking to the cities is too much, the city won’t be able to provide housing or accommodation for everyone overnight,” he says. 

While eThekwini claims to be a caring city, local activists say the evictions show otherwise.

In one case, 29 women were evicted from shacks during the hard lockdown. With nowhere to go, they slept in an open field and were arrested by the South African Police Service for violating the lockdown, Philpott says.

“These evictions are dehumanizing people whose dignity is already compromised in many ways,” says S’bu Zikode, the president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a community organization whose Zulu name translates to “the people of the shacks”. 

“It has reminded us that we are the people that do not count in our society.”

Municipal law enforcement and private security contractors hired by cities regularly fire rubber bullets, or even live ammunition, at residents during evictions. Some 18 Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed since the organization was founded in 2005, Zikode says, most by the eThekwini Land Invasion Unit and Metro Police.

(Mayisela says that if city employees have broken the law, Abahlali baseMjondolo can file a complaint with the police. “There is no conclusive evidence to the effect that our members have killed them,”  he says.)

Other Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed by what Zikode calls “izinkabi,” hitmen hired by politicians. Two eThekwini city councillors were sentenced to life in prison 2016 after they organized the killing of Thuli Ndlovu, an Abahlali baseMjondolo organizer. A member of the Land Invasion Unit who is currently facing a charge of attempted murder after severely injuring a person during an eviction remains on the job, Zikode says.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution is intended to protect the public from arbitrary state violence and guarantees a right to housing, as well as due process in evictions. But for Zikode, the South African constitution is a “beautiful document on a shelf”.

“For the working class and the poor, it’s still difficult to have access to court. You’ve got to have money to get to court,” he says. 

The actions by municipal law enforcement are breaking down social trust, says Buhle Booi, a member of the Khayelitsha Community Action Network, a community group in the largest township in Cape Town.

“There’s a lack of police resources and those very few police resources that they have, they use to destroy people’s homes, to destroy people’s peace, rather than fighting crime, real criminal elements that we see in our society,” Booi says.

For him, it’s a continuation of the practices of the colonial and apartheid governments, pushing poor people, most of whom are Black, to the periphery of cities.

Around one-fifth of South Africa’s urban population live in shacks or informal dwellings, according to a 2018 report by SERI. Many more live in substandard housing. City governments maintain that the shacks destroyed during anti-land invasion operations are unfinished and unoccupied. But Edward Molopi, a research and advocacy officer at SERI, says that this claim is an attempt to escape their legal obligations to get a court order and to find alternative accommodation for affected people. 

The roots of the current eviction crisis go back to apartheid, which barred non-white people from living in cities. Between the 1940s and 1970s, tens of thousands of people were forcibly relocated from neighbourhoods like Johannesburg’s Sophiatown and Cape Town’s District Six to remote townships.

In the 26 years following the end of apartheid, deepening economic inequality and rampant unemployment have limited access to formal housing for millions of South Africans. Government housing programs have mostly focused on building small stand-alone homes, often on the peripheries of cities far from jobs and amenities.

While these well-intentioned projects have built millions of homes, they’ve failed to keep up with demand, says Marie Huchzermeyer, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism & Built Environment Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Government-funded housing projects “will never on it’s own be enough,” she says. “It has to be accompanied by land release.”

Government policies call for the “upgrading” of informal settlements and the formalization of residents’ occupation. But “there are still very, very, very few projects” of that nature in South Africa, Huchzermeyer says. “Even if it’s an informal settlement that’s been around for 20 years, there still seems to be a political wish to punish people for having done that.” The government wants people to go through the formal process of being given a house, she says – and for them to be thankful to the government for providing it.

At the municipal level, change will require “real leadership around informal settlement upgrading and around ensuring that land is available for people to occupy,” she says. 

Despite the end of enforced racial segregation, spacial apartheid remains a factor in South Africa. There are few mixed-income neighbourhoods. Those who can afford to often live behind walls in sprawling low-density suburbs, while the poor live in overcrowded slums and apartment buildings.

The creation of the apartheid city “didn't happen by chance,” says Amira Osman, a professor of architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology. “It was a deliberate, structured approach to the design of the city. We need a deliberate, structured approach that will undo that.”

Since last fall, Johannesburg’s Inclusionary Housing Policy has required developments of 20 or more units to set aside 30% of those units for low-income housing.

The policy, which faced significant opposition from private developers, won’t lead to dramatic change, says Sarah Charlton, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies, but it is “an important and significant step.”

Zikode isn’t optimistic that change will come for shack dwellers, however.

“People in the high positions of authority pretend that everything is normal,” he says. “They pretend that everyone is treated justly, they pretend that everyone has homes with running water, that everyone has a piece of land – and hide the truth and the lies of our democracy.”

Jacob Serebrin is a freelance journalist currently based in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter.