Sadiq Khan has blamed the Government for forcing him to hike public transport fares in London as a condition of a £1.6 billion bail out - even though he announced a price increase before the coronavirus outbreak.
Amid mounting criticism of the London mayor’s handling of Covid-19 in the capital, it has emerged that Mr Khan had already agreed for fares to rise by at least three per cent from January 2021.
Transport for London’s (TfL) 2019 business statement, agreed by Mr Khan as its chair last year, states: “From January 2021, our plan assumes that fares will rise by around the retail price index (RPI) plus one per cent, to support vital investment in public transport.” RPI is currently 2.5 per cent.
On Tuesday, he tweeted: “The Govt is punishing Londoners for doing the right thing on Covid-19: forcing us to raise fares, widen the congestion charge, pause free travel for Freedom pass & over-60 card holders in peak hours & suspend free travel; for under 18’s. Nowhere else is being punished like this.”
A spokesman for the Mayor confirmed that he had called for a fares increase in March - but had revised it to being in line “with the cost of living”. He said bus fares should remain frozen.
But last night, a minister described Mr Khan as “incredibly irresponsible,” saying the bail out conditions required him to increase TfL’s income without specifying any timings or price rises.
The £11.50 daily levy for people driving into central London was suspended on March 23 when the lockdown was announced, but reintroduced on Monday. Next month the fee will rise to £15 and the hours of operation will be extended to cover Saturdays and Sundays. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is said to be “furious” at his City Hall successor. "He thinks it's shambolic," an adviser said.
The minister blamed Mr Khan’s “populist” decision to freeze fares when he was elected Mayor four years ago on TfL’s troubled finances. “Rather than raising fares a bit each year and thereby have money for a rainy day, instead he's effectively failed to collect £700m and now wants the taxpayer to bail him out,” the minister added. “It's hard to see why taxpayers in less well off parts of the country should pay for his re-election campaign.”
As well as cancelling the congestion charge during the lockdown, Mr Khan also instructed passengers not to use contactless pay for buses with a sticker at the middle door saying “no need to pay”.
Shaun Bailey, the Conservative candidate for mayor, said: “The mayor has been so political that every time the Government has ridden to his rescue, he’s punished them for doing it.” Pointing out that the Government has already had to bail TfL out to the tune of £3.6 billion for Crossrail, he said: “He hasn’t acknowledged that this is all down to his poor management.”
During Mayor’s Question Time on Thursday, Mr Bailey questioned why Mr Khan had not published his proposal for how he planned to pay for the bailout - leaving confusion over who was responsible for the Congestion Charge extension. “He’s saying about the Congestion Charge that it’s entirely the Government’s fault, that they made him put it up, but that’s disingenuous,” he said.
“Being a good politician is great, but he’s a bad mayor. London does not have an economy if it doesn’t have a public transport system, but he’s utterly smashed the finances to pieces in order to make himself look good. When the Government comes to help him, he then tries to make it their fault.
“He claims to have balanced the books prior to this but it’s simply not true. He cut 30 per cent of TfL’s staff. We’ve lost £1.3 billion in income on Crossrail. We are paying £400 million a year in interest payments, and we’ve lost 17 of 25 projects. Ken (Livingstone) and Boris (Johnson) were building things, but he has not built anything - he’s behind in his housing targets.
“He’s preventing the economic recovery of this country by stifling the capital.”
Mr Khan has also faced criticism for failing to provide face masks for TfL staff, citing Government guidance stating they are not needed outside of an NHS or care setting. Meanwhile, he has advised people using public transport to wear face coverings.
A spokesman for the Mayor said: “The Government is playing politics in a national emergency and punishing Londoners for doing the right thing on Covid-19. Boris Johnson is increasing TfL fares above inflation once again. The Government has forced TfL to put forward the proposals on the table to widen the cost and hours of the Congestion Charge and have insisted on a temporary pause on free travel for Freedom Pass and 60+ card holders in the morning rush hour and Under 18 card holders at all times.
“The truth is that Sadiq was fixing the mess he inherited on TfL’s finances before Covid-19 - and had reduced TfL’s operating deficit by 71 per cent since 2016. The virus has caused financial difficulties for every transport authority and private train company in the country but only Londoners are being punished in this way.”
The spokesman said the Mayor had now made basic face masks available to all TfL workers but that it was not appropriate to provide medical masks to transport workers.