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Mayoral candidate wants to end fares freeze and invest in policing instead

Lib Dem Rob Blackie has called Sadiq Khan’s latest fares freeze announcement “phoney” and says he has a better idea, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

Lib Dem mayoral candidate Rob Blackie (inset) wants to unfreeze tube fares
Lib Dem mayoral candidate Rob Blackie (inset) wants to unfreeze tube fares

The Liberal Democrats’ London mayoral candidate Rob Blackie has announced that he would scrap Sadiq Khan’s tube fare freeze if elected – putting the money saved into improved policing instead.

The Labour mayor revealed last month that from March, he will be freezing pay-as-you-go tube and bus fares for a year.

But Blackie said the fare freeze was “phoney” and called it “an election gimmick which will benefit tourists more than Londoners”.

His argument is that while the price of single journeys will stay the same this year, the cost of travelcards and the daily and weekly ‘cap’ are all set to rise by as much as 5.1%.

The cost of travelcards is set in negotiation with the train companies – meaning the mayor does not have the unilateral power to freeze those rates. The cost of the caps is pegged to travelcards.

City Hall said when the mayor announced the freeze that record numbers of people are now using pay as you go as an alternative to travelcards, with 80% of tube journeys and 74% of bus journeys now made using pay-as-you-go.

They said Londoners will still therefore save money on their commutes. For example, someone commuting from Southall to a Zone 1 station, like Bond Street on the Elizabeth Line, four days a week, will avoid a potential 20p increase to their zones 1-4 peak single fare, saving “up to £72 a year on their commute alone”, the mayor’s team said.

Khan has committed a total of £147m to Transport for London (TfL) to hold fares down and also to temporarily suspend peak fares on Fridays for a three month trial period. Blackie has also called for the latter measure to be scrapped.

The money for the plans is coming from City Hall reserves and business rates. The Lib Dem said the mayor “is not serious about London’s priorities”.

He added: “While the headline sounds good, many Londoners won’t feel the benefit and will be shocked to find out after the election that their travel costs continue to rise despite Khan’s election promise. For millions, this will do nothing to address the cost of living.

“What Londoners do feel the effect of is the lack of police on our streets and the chaos surrounding the culture in the Metropolitan Police. That’s why I’ve pledged to reallocate that money to where it’s needed most.

“With this money, we can get almost 500 more police on the streets for the next four years and make up the shortfall in the Met Police’s Turnaround Plan.

“After eight years of Sadiq Khan’s mayoralty by press release, it’s clear that Khan can’t deliver for London. The Liberal Democrats are determined to hold him to account for his poor record and I’m determined to offer Londoners a serious, liberal challenger in this contest.”

He clarified however that he would maintain the fare freeze for bus travel, saying: “We know that people that travel by bus tend to live in lower-income areas with less availability of public transport. Keeping fares low for these passengers is really important.

“Bus passengers also tend to make journeys well below the threshold of a daily cap, so the reality is that this specific measure can still make a real difference.”

Blackie believes that keeping the bus fare freeze in place would cost £30m – leaving about £117m to put towards policing.

The mayor says he plans to put an extra £88m, mainly from council tax, into policing next year and has called on the government to “step up” with more. His spokesperson said the fare freeze was “a win-win for Londoners” which will make transport more affordable while encouraging workers back to the office.

He added: “At the same time he’s investing record amounts in London’s police despite huge cuts from the Tory government.

“The mayor would welcome the Lib Dems joining him in making the case for Tory ministers to reverse their huge cuts to policing and youth services.”

Khan has asked Lib Dem supporters to “lend” him their vote so he can defeat Conservative mayoral candidate Susan Hall.

Her team would not tell the BBC whether she would reverse the fares freeze, but have pledged more for policing. A spokesperson said the mayoral election in May was “a two-horse race and only Susan can put an end to Sadiq Khan’s eight years of failure”.

They added: “Susan will invest £200m into the Met Police, get a grip of crime and make our streets safer.”

Green mayoral candidate Zoe Garbett called the Lib Dem plan a “knee jerk”.

She told the BBC: “If he was aiming to raise money for policing it should have been from a more sustainable source of funding than a single year’s uptick in retained business rates and old reserves.

“We have our own plans for both that are well thought through.”

The London mayoral election is on Thursday, 2nd May.

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