Tory mayoral hopeful Zac Goldsmith today urged voters to reject Labour rival Sadiq Khan’s “dangerous experiment” of a four year fares freeze and instead back his “action plan” to “keep London moving.”
Under current Mayor Boris Johnson fares have risen by at least the rate of inflation in each of the past 8 years, meaning many Londoners pay considerably more for their journey than they did when he took office.
Mr Johnson has always insisted that the fares hikes were necessary to fund “vital” network upgrades, including introducing new signalling on the Tube and adding extra carriages to the London Overground.
However some politicians, including the mayor’s own policing deputy, claim the cost of travelling is now in danger of becoming unaffordable and Mr Khan, Liberal Democrat candidate Caroline Pidgeon and the Green party’s Sian Berry have all pledged to cut fares if they succeed Mr Johnson.
The most generous giveaway on offer is Mr Khan’s pledge to freeze fares for the entire mayoral term, a policy rivals and Transport for London say would cost in the region of £1.9bn. Mr Khan disputes this sum but recently declined to repeat past claims that the policy would cost £450m.
Ms Berry has promised to introduce a flat fares structure so that those travelling from outer London do not pay more than inner Londoners, while Ms Pidgeon has pledged to halve fares for those travelling before 7.30am.
All three also say they’d introduce new tickets which allow passengers to switch buses without paying an additional fare, a policy long championed by Liberal Democrat members of the London Assembly.
However Mr Goldsmith has declined to offer any fare cuts and instead says he would use efficiency savings and commercial receipts to “bear down” on the cost of travel.
TfL is already committed to generating £3.4bn in non-fares revenue by 2023 and the Conservative candidate is looking to add to this by setting up a new high-speed broadband venture using the Tube’s network of tunnels and using any profits to fund TfL’s operations.
Goldsmith says any fares giveaway would reduce TfL’s ability to fund further upgrades and jeopardise the delivery of thousands of homes whose construction is dependent on the delivery of new transport links.
On Wednesday the Tory hopeful published his transport manifesto which includes pledges to push forward with the Crossrail 2 rail link and implement TfL’s plans to boost capacity on the Circle and Hammersmith & City lines, as well as buy new trains for the Jubilee and Northern lines.
The document also commits Goldsmith to delivering and expanding the delayed Night Tube service and introducing all-night services on the London Overground and DLR.
Other pledges include boosting capacity on busy night bus routes and appointing a bus passenger representative to the Transport for London board “to press their needs and raise their concerns.”
Mr Goldsmith also says he would proceed with plans to build a new road tunnel at Silvertown, a scheme he says is necessary to boost the area’s transport links.
In an effort to temper criticism from clean air campaigners and other opponents, Goldsmith says vehicles using the crossing would have to pay a toll with the most polluting cars facing “higher charges” than those with newer, cleaner models.
However Darryl Chamberlain, spokesman for the No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign, said: “It’s funny how Zac Goldsmith cares deeply for the environment for west Londoners around Heathrow, but doesn’t seem so bothered when he heads further east. If he cared about clean air, he’d scrap the Silvertown Tunnel.
“There’s a wealth of evidence that new roadbuilding only serves to add to congestion and pollution. The Silvertown Tunnel will increase traffic levels across east and south-east London, and make matters worse for both drivers and residents.
“The Silvertown Tunnel will be a waste of £1 billion – a sum that we know TfL is worried about having to raise – and will do nothing about the mounting costs of congestion and pollution in our capital city.”
Today’s manifesto also contains a promise to consult on expanding the planned Ultra Low Emission Zone, which is due to come into force from September 2020, to cover a larger area.
While many of the schemes listed in Goldsmith’s manifesto are already planned by TfL, he says Londoners will only see them delivered if they back him in May’s election.
Talking to MayorWatch during a visit to Ilford, Mr Goldsmith said: “A lot of these projects are slightly more than a wish-list but they won’t happen if the funding is removed, so my commitment is to protect funding so that these things will happen.
“Even if we protect the funding, even if we defend London against the £1.9bn blackhole, we still are going to need more money, we’re still going to have to get a deal with Government, we’re still going to have to do a deal around stamp duty in order to fund the things we need.”
“I have to start with my overall commitment to do whatever I need to do to protect that Transport for London budget. I have to protect it against that £1.9bn cut.
“That is my starting point because from that flows everything else that I want to do, whether it’s dealing with air quality, dealing with congestion, getting trucks off the road, whatever.”
Mr Goldsmith said he would “hunt for inefficiencies in TfL,” adding: “I will hunt for waste in the TfL budget. I see, even as a local MP, so many examples of money being spent that should not have been spent or wildly inflated budgets.”
“There’s no doubt there’s waste in the system, I will weed that waste out. I think the mayor does need to be borderline ruthless with TfL in relation to costs.”
“I went to Harrow on the Hill recently to look at the lack of step-free access and the figures that are being banded around in terms of bringing in the lifts that are needed – £35m. It’s just inconceivable that project should or would cost £35m in a sensible budget.”
LibDem rival Ms Pidgeon has dismissed Goldsmith’s manifesto as “an uncosted wish list” and criticised him for failing to confirm fares would rise if he became mayor.
She added: “Those of us with the experience of dealing with government know that the Treasury is expecting Transport for London to pay its own way and rely less on central grants.
“I am surprised that Mr Goldsmith appears either not to know this, or has deliberately ignored the messages coming from George Osborne.”
On Tuesday Mr Khan claimed his main rival’s stance meant some Londoners would pay “up to £1,000 more” by the end of a Goldsmith term at City Hall.
Londoners will elect a new Mayor and the 25 members of the London Assembly on May 5th. Candidates for Mayor include Conservative Zac Goldsmith, Labour’s Sadiq Khan, Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon, the Green party’s Sian Berry and UKIP’s Peter Whittle.