by Cllr Judith Garfield MBE
Havering and Redbridge Labour candidate for the London Assembly
Transport for London’s funding package from the government, agreed last week, will allow Londoners to travel safely for the next four-and-a-half months. But for our communities, it will cause added hardship – particularly for our key workers; care workers and those who are already struggling with day-to-day household bills.
The Government has insisted TfL must increase its fares above inflation next year, bringing an end to the four-year fares freeze introduced by the Mayor of London. They have also insisted that the scope and hours of the congestion charge be widened, a suspension of free travel for pensioners during peak hours, and that free bus passes for children be halted entirely. After pressure from the Sadiq Khan, the Government has now agreed to allow disabled Freedom Pass holders to continue travelling for free at all times.
When speaking with residents in Havering and Redbridge earlier this year, before lockdown they want a safe environment without pollution for which reliable, fairly priced and comfortable public transport is central. They should not be exploited by the government through its abuse of our public transport. They did not want to see politics before people and this is precisely what this government has done.
We stayed indoors because it was the right thing to do; we worked from home, maintained social distancing, missed family birthdays, and even paid our respects via videoconference. We are continuing to stay home in a heroic effort to get us past the coronavirus peak and prevent a second wave of the infection, which some of our nearest and dearest wouldn’t survive.
As the hub of COVID-19, we Londoners worked together to reduce the infection rate. The government tells us that we are ‘in this together,’ so why are they punishing us with a bad deal for our public transport? In Havering and Redbridge, this spells further hardship for frontline workers who have already been told not to expect a pay rise any time soon.
The Mayor has been honest with us all – this is a bad deal for London. But it was the only deal the Government were willing to put on the table, and one he had to accept to keep the tubes and buses running.
In 2015, austerity meant TfL lost a yearly £700 million grant from central government. Today, we are the world’s only major capital city with an unsubsidised transport network. All our transportation costs are covered by fares and some devolved business rates, unlike the government subsidised transportation networks in Paris, Seoul, or New York City.
COVID-19 has left a £4 billion hold in Transport for London’s budget this year. Travel on the tube and buses plummeted 95% in the first week of lockdown, representing an equal drop in fare revenue which the government has told TfL to fund its operations with. Whitehall has announced other transport networks in Britain will receive similar funding packages, because they have also suffered the same plunge in operating revenue. Except, they have assured private operators their bailouts will be devoid of the penalties inflicted on TfL. So, why is this government punishing Londoners?
Many of us in Havering and Redbridge rely on public transport to meet our everyday needs and get to work. Our NHS heroes, supermarket staff, refuse collectors, care workers, and cleaners all depend on TfL. Outer London boroughs like Havering and Redbridge are home to the lifeblood of this city and if we want to get through coronavirus ‘together,’ the government needs to stop punishing low-paid Londoners and the residents in Havering and Redbridge.