Ken Livingstone has promised to cut fares by 7%, effectively reversing January’s increases, if elected Mayor next May.
Fares have risen by inflation plus two percent each year since Boris Johnson was elected in 2008 and were originally due to increase by 7% in January.
City Hall says the increases are necessary to ensure continued investment in the transport network but several polls have shown the hikes are unpopular.
In May a Greater London Authority poll revealed 48% of Londoners believed bus and tube fares were “most in need of improvement” – an increase from 36% in the previous year’s poll.
In a Comres poll published last week, 59% of respondents agreed with the statement: “In the current economic climate, tube fares should be kept as low as possible even if this means stopping upgrade works”.
Last week the Government provided £130m for Johnson to lower January’s planned increase.
Under the Mayor’s revised fares package, announced on Friday, average fares will now rise by 5.6% although some tickets will rise by as much as 8%.
Livingstone, Labour’s candidate in next year’s Mayoral elections, had earlier pledged a 5% cut followed by a freeze and subsequent inflationary increases.
His new policy includes an 11% cut in bus fares and average costs of 7%. Labour claim this would save “the average Londoner £1000″ over the next Mayoral term.
The former Mayor says: “I want to use the excess money that is sitting idle in Transport for London’s budget to fund a fare cut that will cut the cost of travel for millions of Londoners.”
38% of respondents in last week’s poll said they were “more likely” to vote for Livingstone once they had heard his earlier fares policy.
In October Livingstone told MayorWatch: “It’s very tempting to say ‘Boris has put fares up by 7%, I’ll cut them 7% in October’ but we’re saying 5% because when we plough through the budget and we’d gone for 7% we might have found in that final year there would be a deficit and I’m not prepared to take that risk.”
Speaking today, Livingstone’s running mate Val Shawcross said: “The most recent TfL financial report showed a £206 million unplanned operating surplus which is sitting unused in the transport budget.
“The operating surplus income comes from increasing fare revenues (high fares) and lower operating expenditure in the first 6 months of this year alone. Last year the annual operating surplus eventually rose to £729 million.
“Whatever the final outcome of this year’s budget surpluses it is clear that the tendency towards surpluses in the budget permits bigger benefits to transport users through further lower fares.”
Liberal Democrat Mayoral candidate Brian Paddick has questioned Livingstone’s ability to fund cuts.
In a statement Paddick said: “Even with Boris Johnson’s mismanagement, it is inconceivable he would store-up reserves in an election year. As usual, Ken makes promises to get elected that he breaks once his feet are under the table. He’s done it before and he’ll do it again.
“I promise to cancel all unnecessary spending on vanity projects and cosmetic upgrades, like cable cars and Disney-style tube stations, and plough every penny into keeping fares low.”
Jenny Jones, Green Party Mayoral candidate, said: “I’m pleased fare decreases are being discussed but I’m also concerned that Ken Livingstone isn’t able to fund his proposals on a sustained basis.
“The Green Party is keen to decrease fares but this must be financed with credible, alternative income that ensures the burden shifts towards more polluting traffic away from public transport users.”