Labour mayoral hopeful Sadiq Khan has been accused of creating “unnecessary fear amongst elderly and disabled Freedom Pass users” after implying the scheme was under threat.
The pass allows around 1.3m disabled and older Londoners to use Tube, bus, DLR and rail services at no cost.
It was originally introduced by the Greater London Council in 1973 and, when that body was abolished, the task of funding and managing it passed to London’s local councils.
Responsibility has remained with the councils ever since despite the creation of the London Mayoralty in 2000 and the scheme, the most generous of its kind in the UK, is protected by primary legislation which would be time consuming and controversial to amend.
Despite there being no Government plans to do so and no risk to it on the horizon, Mr Khan today pledged to protect the pass if elected Mayor next year.
In a statement he said: “The Freedom Pass is a lifeline for more than a million Londoners – ensuring they can always get around our city. If I’m Mayor, the Freedom Pass stays.”
His intervention has been criticised by London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon who in 2009 condemned Khan’s decision while Transport minister in Gordon Brown’s government to slash funding for concessionary bus travel in London and England.
At the time councils warned this could threaten the viability of the pass and force them to put up council tax to protect it.
Khan dismissed the claims as “reckless electioneering” which he said had “scared” many of the scheme’s users and insisted his funding cuts applied only to ‘top up’ funding aimed at compensating councils for trips made by national pass holders when visiting London.
Today Ms Pidgeon, who is also the Liberal Democrat’s mayoral candidate, said Khan was guilty of the very behaviour he’d previously condemned.
She said: “In 2009 Sadiq Khan as a Transport Minister was keen to take the axe to the grant that London received for the Freedom Pass.
“Yet back then he had the utter cheek to claim that anyone who thought the Freedom Pass was in anyway under threat was ‘being deliberately misleading’ and guilty of ‘reckless electioneering’.
“Fast forward six years and it is Sadiq Khan who stands guilty of reckless electioneering. Far from seeking to save the Freedom Pass it seems his real motive is to create unnecessary fear amongst elderly and disabled Freedom Pass users.”