The question of whether London’s transport workers and their significant others should continue to receive free travel could well become the next flashpoint between the capital’s politicians and transport unions.
At this week’s Mayor’s Question Time Tory AM Gareth Bacon will ask Boris Johnson whether he considers Transport for London’s “insistence on taxpayer subsidised travel for TfL employees and a large number of non-TfL employees to be acceptable?”
The question follows earlier ones from LibDems on the Assembly who, though they say free travel should continue for TfL staff, question whether it’s right for spouses, partners or – as they contend – “even flatmates” to receive the benefit.
City Hall LibDems estimate the concession to cost “about £28 million” per year and argue it’s not right for it to continue in these times of budget constraints especially, they say, when there doesn’t need to be evidence of a relationship between the TfL employee and the person they nominate (hence the reference to flatmates).
Understandably, transport workers and their unions aren’t happy at suggestions that a benefit which has long been part of TfL’s advertised pay and conditions now be removed. Neither are they likely to look favourably on suggestions that the concession be run down over time by not extending it to new employees.
Introducing pay/benefit differentials into any work place also introduces the spectre of managers guiding longer-term, more expensive employees towards the door in favour of cheaper replacements. There seems enough suspicion and distrust between TfL and its workforce without introducing more.
And, not surprisingly, there are accusations of “hypocrisy” on the part of well paid Assembly Members who, though they receive a publicly-funded Oyster card, apparently want to deny the same benefit to other, less well-paid, staff within the GLA family.
Though he has expressed some sympathy with the LibDem’s “basic point of view” the Mayor has also spoken of the need not to “prejudice the rights of people who are not on huge incomes in TfL, who have signed up on the basis of a certain series of terms and conditions and who certainly need free travel on London transport to do their job.”
With two Assembly parties now portraying the “perk” as an easy saving which will help TfL meet its new spending constraints, the capital’s transport workers will be watching the Mayor’s answer on Wednesday for any sign that his support for the concession is softening.