A decision to axe free travel for older Londoners in the morning rush-hour has been described as “devastating”.
Sadiq Khan announced on Wednesday that a temporary ban on the use of 60+ Oyster or Freedom Pass cards before 9am on weekdays was being made permanent, with immediate effect.
The restriction was first introduced on weekdays in June 2020, primarily to ensure public transport was kept free for key workers during the first phase of the pandemic.
But the mayor decided to keep the pre-9am ban after being told by Transport for London that it could generate an additional £40m a year in fares.
Abigail Wood, chief executive of Age UK London, said: “We are devastated that the voices of older Londoners have been ignored. Affordable transport is a lifeline not a luxury and this cut penalises them with no choice about when and how they travel.
“Age UK London is deeply concerned this comes at the worst possible time as the cost-of-living crisis worsens and more and more older Londoners are plunged into poverty.
“One in four older Londoners live in poverty – the highest level in the country – and London has some of the highest living costs in the world. This is the wrong decision at the worst possible time.”
The decision was part of Mr Khan’s wider fares package, which will see the cost of travel on TfL services such as the Tube, London Overground, Elizabeth line and London buses, increase by an average of 5.9 per cent from March 5.
However a previous suggestion of gradually phasing out the 60+ Oyster - by increasing the qualifying age by six months each year – has been ditched.
The Mayor has also made the ban on free travel for over-60s before 9am permanent. I helped @ageuklondon lobby against this policy at MQT as it has huge cost of living impacts on working older people and carers who need to get around in the mornings. https://t.co/F9638pgN5X
— Sian Berry (@sianberry) January 18, 2023
The 60+ Oyster is funded by TfL and gives London residents aged over 60 free travel on TfL services.
It is separate to the Older Persons Freedom Pass, which is funded by the capital’s 33 borough councils and gives free travel to London residents over the State pension age of 66.
About 1.3m older Londoners benefit from free travel. A petition signed by more than 10,000 people was submitted to the mayor in November.
City Hall said on Wednesday that the free travel concessions available to older Londoners remained “more generous than that available to older people across England”.
Mr Khan – who said his fare rises were a consequence of Government orders for TfL services to mirror the 5.9 per cent rise in national rail fares – will use City Hall funds to retain the 60+ Oyster and travel concessions for under 18s.
Holders of the Disabled Person’s Freedom Pass will still be able to travel for free before 9am throughout the week.
In addition, the Deputy Mayor for Transport, Seb Dance, has written to London NHS Trust and GP bodies to request that medical appointments for those aged 60 and over are, where possible and appropriate, scheduled after 9am to help ensure that free travel can be used to and from their appointments.
Research by Age UK London found that 27 per cent of 60+ Oyster card or Freedom Pass holders who travelled before 9am on weekdays had had to cut costs elsewhere to afford to travel.
TfL continues to consider whether to withdraw from the Travelcard agreement with train companies – a system that allows integrated fares across a wider network than just that operated by TfL.
It came as business groups said the 5.9 per cent average fare rise would be “deeply concerning to Londoners” and could encourage more to work from home.
Adam Tyndall, programme director for transport at BusinessLDN, said: “Increasing fares goes against the tide of progressive cities making public transport cheaper and more accessible to expand ridership, boost their economies, and tackle the climate emergency. Without a similar plan, London is at risk of falling further behind international counterparts.”