Off-Peaky Blinder! Sadiq Khan trials scrapping peak fares on Fridays to get Londoners back on the Tube

All London Underground fares on Fridays are to be charged at off-peak rates in a bid to encourage commuters back to central London.

Mayor Sadiq Khan is to scrap peak fares on the Tube on Fridays for three months from March – hoping savings of up to £2 per trip will boost passenger numbers.

He also hopes it will boost business for the capital’s bars and restaurants as workers return to pre-covid patterns and switch away from hybrid working patterns.

Tube demand has grown to 85 per cent midweek, and at times exceeds 100 per cent at weekends, but lags on Mondays and especially Fridays, when it averages 73 per cent.

At present, passengers pay peak fares on weekdays between 6.30am-9.30am and 4pm-7pm. These higher rates also apply to journeys on the Elizabeth line and the London Overground.

Under the mayor’s “off-peak Fridays” trial, travel at peak times would fall by 10p to £2.70 for zone 1, by 60p to £2.80 for zones 1-2, by 70p to £3 for zones 1-3, by £1.20 to £3.20 for zones 1-4, by £1.60 to £3.50 for zones 1-5 and by £2 to £3.60 for zones 1-6.

Mr Khan has set aside £24m in his 2024/25 annual budget for the initiative. It follows his decision to freeze pay-as-you-go fares until March 2025, at a cost of £123m – cash that City Hall will provide to Transport for London to plug a shortfall in its projected income.

Fares between Heathrow airport and zone 1 would not be discounted.

It is thought that Mr Khan will seek to encourage rail firms to follow suit and also offer off-peak fares all day Friday. However commuter rail fares are set by the Government and are due to increase by 4.9 per cent on March 3.

The aim of the trial will be to establish whether cheaper fares lure Londoners back onto public transport, and whether this benefits TfL and the economy more widely.

Some traders have spotted commuters delaying their journeys until after 930am to avoid paying higher fares.

Mr Khan said: “London has really bounced back since the pandemic, but the lack of commuters returning on Fridays is a clear exception – with a major knock-on effect on our shops, cafes and cultural venues. That’s why I’ve asked TfL to trial off-peak fares on Fridays, and I encourage Londoners to get involved.

“A trial will help us to see if it’s an effective way of increasing ridership and giving a welcome boost to businesses as we continue to build a better, fairer, more prosperous London for everyone.”

Mr Khan has been criticised by political rivals at City Hall for the way he has announced changes to TfL fares, only months from the mayoral elections.

Last week he refused to explain how he planned to spend the £24m, which was set aside for “TfL projects”, as the London Assembly tried with limited success to scrutinise his £21bn of spending plans.

Suggestions last year by Seb Dance, the deputy mayor for transport, that Taylor Swift-style “dynamic pricing” could be introduced on the Tube to incentivise passengers were slapped down last Thursday by Mr Khan’s chief of staff, David Bellamy.

Mr Bellamy said passengers needed to have certainty about how much they would be charged to travel.

TfL commissioner Andy Lord had previously warned that the Oyster card system did not have the capacity to cope with a multitude of different fare options.

Ruth Duston, chief executive of Primera, which operates 12 business improvement districts in central London, said: “Adopting a more flexible approach to fare policy is something our BIDs have asked the Mayor and TfL to look at over recent years, as we consider new and innovative ways to encourage more people back into the capital, specifically thinking about how we can ‘reinvent Fridays’ in the era of new working practices.”

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, said: “There’s no doubt that Fridays have suffered as a result of changes to working patterns since the pandemic and hospitality businesses have felt that loss of commuter trade.

“Responding to these challenges with innovative trials like off-peak Fridays is exactly the type of flexible approach needed to boost journey numbers and stimulate footfall in our venues.”

Chris Hayward, policy chairman at the City of London Corporation, the local authority for the Square Mile, said: “This move could provide a huge boost for London’s hospitality and leisure sectors.

“Cutting the cost of travel on Fridays will help London’s footfall continue its steady rise back to pre-pandemic levels and give a welcome shot in the arm to our businesses.”

Muniya Barua, deputy chief executive at BusinessLDN, said: “Experimenting with Friday fares is an innovative step that could help encourage some hybrid workers back into the capital, in turn supporting businesses that rely on footfall.

“It will be interesting to see if this will be enough to change habits that have become engrained since the pandemic for the many Londoners who can choose to work from home.”