Free bus and Tube travel will be withdrawn from older London schoolchildren immediately after the October half-term holidays, under the latest Government plans.
The temporary removal of free travel from under 18s – for an unknown period – was a condition of Transport for London’s £1.6bn coronavirus bailout from the Government in May.
However it has yet to be implemented after a stand-off between Mayor Sadiq Khan and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
Today it emerged that the axing of free travel could now start on November 2 – and apply only to children aged 11 to 17, meaning most primary school children will continue to travel for free.
A letter from transport minister Baroness Vere of Norbiton to TfL said: “I can confirm that we would like the temporary suspension of free travel for 11-17 year olds to be implemented immediately after October half term.”
She confirmed that “children aged 10 and under” would “remain eligible for free travel” – as will children who live more than two miles from their school or college, who receive benefits or have a health need.
In addition, children who “do not have a safe walking route” to school will continue to qualify for free travel.
She said that draft plans to withdraw free travel from 16- and 17-year-olds from September 6 had been “stopped and reversed”, with the restart after the October half-term now the target date for all older children.
A spokesman for the Mayor said he welcomed the fact that younger children were exempt and that plans to suspend the benefit from next month for older children had been dropped, but added: “The fight goes on.”
City Hall said it was unclear whether children who lived more than two miles from school would only be able to travel to and from school for free – or continue to be able to make all journeys around London without charge.
The amount that children will have to pay is also unknown, though it has previously been indicated that this could be 50 per cent of adult fares. This would mean, for example, that older children would pay 75p for each bus journey. Fares are due to rise above inflation in January as a further condition of the bail-out.
The threat to free travel had already sparked protests from pupils and students, with thousands signing petitions. Passenger groups today warned that determining which children were entitled to be exempted from paying would prove complicated.
Emma Gibson, director of London TravelWatch, tweeted: “I can only imagine how complicated it will be to administer zip card exemptions such as 'Do you have an unsafe walking route'?
“When London Travel Watch spoke to young people across London about this they told us that walking through unsafe areas was a key concern for them.”
Caroline Pidgeon, a Liberal Democrat London Assembly member, said: “The Government’s admission that the suspension of free travel for 11-17 year olds can only be implemented after the October Half Term simply shows that their initial proposals were misguided, complex and simply wrong.
“Instead of pushing ahead with a foolish policy at a later date it is now time to simply drop this entirely.
“The policy of free travel for young people that has existed since 2005 should not be altered. The last thing young people and low income households need is to face a further challenge this Autumn.”