Thousands demand return of free early London travel for over-60s

Thousands of older Londoners have called on Sadiq Khan to reinstate their free travel during the morning rush hour.

The benefit – which is given to about 1.3m people over 60 – was suspended soon after the start of the pandemic in June 2020 for weekday journeys before 9am, primarily to ensure public transport was kept free for key workers.

But the mayor is due to decide by the end of the year whether to retain the restriction on a permanent basis, which would generate about £15m to £18m in fares for cash-strapped Transport for London.

The charity Age UK London presented a petition signed by more than 10,000 people, demanding the reinstatement of the benefit, to City Hall on Tuesday afternoon.

It says permanently axing free travel before 9am would be the “wrong decision at the wrong time”, due to the cost of living crisis.

There are also concerns that the qualifying age for the 60+ Oyster, which provides Londoners with free bus, Tube and train travel until they receive the Freedom Pass at the pension age of 67, will be increased each year to exclude more people.

Peter Henderson, 65, a NHS care worker who signed the petition, said he spent about £30 to £35 a month getting home at 8am to Harlesden after a 12-hour night shift in Harrow.

He said the withdrawal of the benefit, a week after the end of the “clap for the NHS” events on Thursday evenings, “felt like a kick in the teeth”.

He said: “Having been applauded one week, the next week I was asked to dip in my pocket. I accept that TfL lost a great deal of money during the pandemic, but asking the older and more vulnerable members of society is unacceptable.

“Not only do the concessionary fares help those who have physical problems, for those living alone, the chance to get out and about around London, rather than stare at four walls, is a considerable way of maintaining and enhancing their mental health.”

Age UK London research found that 39 percent of Londoners over 60 had to travel before 9am. More than a quarter were going to work, while 31 per cent were attending health appointments. Eight per cent needed to travel to fulfil caring duties.

More than quarter of respondents said the ban on free travel before 9am had prevented them from making important journeys.

Mr Khan first announced proposals last December to increase the qualifying age for the 60+ Oyster by six months each year for the next 12 years – until it is effectively merged with the Freedom Pass, which is funded by London Councils.

However the qualifying age has yet to change – and City Hall says a final decision on the 9am start-time has yet to be made.

A spokesperson for Mr Khan said: “The mayor fully understands how worried Londoners are about rising inflation, costs and making ends meet.

“TfL’s finances were decimated by the pandemic and the Government set strict conditions as part of emergency funding deals to keep essential services running.

“He has been forced to consider permanently restricting the use of 60+ and older persons freedom passes to after 9am and to consider increasing the age of eligibility for the 60+ concession on a phased basis. However, no final decision has been made.”