Sadiq Khan facing Tube and bus fares hike dilemma as mayor is urged to keep bus trips under £2

Sadiq Khan has been warned by his own transport chiefs that he risks effectively shooting himself in the foot if he decides to increase Tube and bus fares by less than national rail fares.

It came as the mayor indicated he wanted to keep bus fares as low as possible - even if this meant Tube fares would have to rise more].

The Department for Transport announced just before Christmas that fares on the mainline railways would rise by 5.9 per cent on March 5 - the biggest amount in a decade, though well below the rate of inflation.

Under the terms of Transport for London’s final covid bailout, the mayor is required to mirror the national rail increase as a minimum – or face losing some of the £1.1bn in Government cash secured last August.

Patrick Doig, TfL’s group finance director, told the London Assembly: “If the mayor chooses to match that 5.9 per cent, the funding deal will effectively stand, in terms of the quantum received by TfL.

“If the mayor chose to go for a lower fare [increase], TfL would receive less funding. If the mayor went for a higher fare, TfL would benefit from that upside – but it remains the mayor’s decision to set the fares for London.”

Mr Khan is due to decide in the coming weeks by how much to increase fares on the Underground, buses, Elizabeth line and London Overground.

The rise will come into effect on the same day as the national rail fares. Prior to the rail fares announcement, TfL’s “working assumption” was that its fares would rise by be at least four per cent.

TfL finance chiefs on Wednesday confirmed to Caroline Russell, a Green member of the assembly, that Mr Khan had the ability to impose different rates on each mode of transport – meaning he could limit any rise on the buses but charge more on the Tube and Elizabeth line if he wished.

Questioning Mr Khan about his plans at the assembly on Thursday, Ms Russell asked if he was seeking to “protect” bus passengers from the biggest increases.

Mr Khan replied: “The short answer is yes. The basic principle is we try and make sure that public transport is as affordable as possible for those who need it the most and are least likely to afford it.

“My instinct is always to try and keep bus fares as low as we possibly can.

“If there is a choice, in round terms, to get to 5.9 per cent, if that is the figure we are talking about, we will try and minimise the increase that bus users have to endure.”

The Green party has been urging Mr Khan to keep adult bus fares – currently £1.65 – below £2 until the end of his term of office in May next year. Poorer Londoners are more likely to use buses than the Tube, where fares are higher.

Ms Russell said the mayor had the ability to adapt the fares package “creatively, for the public good” to help those Londoners hardest hit by the cost-of-living crisis.

She told the Standard: “He has obviously got to put fares up if he wants to avoid losing Government bail-out funding, but it doesn’t have to be 5.9 per cent across the board. He could make the buses more affordable.”

But she said Mr Khan, who froze some TfL fares for the first four years as mayor, may still be tempted to consider whether a rise lower than 5.9 per cent would have wider benefits.

Bus routes outside London are being temporarily capped by the Government at £2.

The Elizabeth line has rapidly become the busiest rail line in Britain with about 15 million journeys a month. It is expected to generate £550m in fares in 2023/24, the assembly was told.

A spokesperson for Mr Khan said: “The mayor has always made it a priority to keep public transport in London as accessible and affordable as possible.

“Transport for London will now enter discussions with the government about the implications of the national rail fare rise given the strict conditions ministers have placed on TfL as part of emergency funding deals during the pandemic.”