Transport bosses say Stephen Greenhalgh’s promise to cut fares by 3% each year would create a £2bn gap in their budgets, forcing planned modernisation and improvement projects to be axed or scaled back.
Mr Greenhalgh is currently Boris Johnson’s deputy mayor for policing and crime and is campaigning to become the Conservative party candidate at next year’s Mayoral election.
His biggest campaign pledge so far is to slash fares by 3% each year, reversing years of fares hikes by Mr Johnson.
Yesterday Mr Greenhalgh delighted the Mayor’s opponents at City Hall by claiming his increases had left Londoners with “the most expensive” public transport network in the world.
Writing for ConservativeHome, he said: “Notwithstanding the different pricing models in other cities, the plain fact is that London has higher fares than New York, Paris or Tokyo.”
His comments were seized upon by opposition parties on the London Assembly who have long complained that Mr Johnson’s above inflation fares hikes have dented Londoners’ living standards and squeezed household budgets.
The Mayor has always denied such claims and has repeatedly defended the increases as necessary to upgrade the transport network to meet the demands of a growing population.
At the 2012 Mayoral election he said a fares cut promised by rival Ken Livingstone would threaten those upgrades, forcing Londoners to endure worsening conditions as the network struggled to cope.
Asked about Mr Greenhalgh’s comments at Wednesday’s Mayor’s Question Time, Johnson said his would-be successor was free to express his view but repeated his line that anyone wanting to reduce fares would need to say “which investments they would cut” to fund their policy.
Johnson’s position has now been endorsed by Transport for London which says the scale of Greenhalgh’s cuts would cost it almost £2bn over the next Mayoral term.
The Mayor’s transport agency has told MayorWatch that comparisons with other international cities are invalid because many receive government help to cover operating costs whereas “the operating cost of London Underground is completely covered by fare and other commercial revenue.”
A spokesperson said “government subsidy in major European and North American metros accounts for around 22 per cent of their revenues, so if this subsidy wasn’t in place, fares in those countries would be 22 per cent higher than today.”
According to TfL, Mr Greenhalgh’s policy “would reduce our Tube and rail income by a total of around £1.9bn billion to 2020/21, £770 million in 2021/22, £825 million in 2022/23 and would continue rising by around £60m million each year thereafter.”
TfL says a funding loss on this scale “would inevitably result in cuts to current plans to improve and expand London’s transport network.”
Projects such as cycling improvements, new Tube trains, extra buses and additional carriages for the London Overground could all be at risk.
The agency’s comments are the latest in a series of public slap downs of Greenhalgh by Mr Johnson and his officials.
In January the Mayor dismissed Greenhalgh’s claim that Johnson and former policing deputy Kit Malthouse did nothing to balance the Met’s budget as “nonsense”.
Following the announcement of his deputy’s fares pledge, Mr Johnson issued a statement to this site defending his record and insisting his rises had been “based on what is best for the city.”
Earlier this month TfL rejected claims by Greenhalgh that he could generate savings by axing some night bus services, saying that “the small gap between first and last bus mean that the cost of running these services all night are relatively marginal.”
While they recognise Mr Greenhalgh’s right to set out his own policies, senior members of the Mayor’s inner-circle have privately expressed frustration at his willingness to repeat and legitimise opponents’ criticism of Johnson’s record.
Mr Greenhalgh has also faced questions about his use of City Hall resources for his campaign.
Meanwhile Liberal Democrats on the Assembly have questioned whether his campaigning for the Tory mayoral nomination is distracting him from the job of overseeing the Met.
Yesterday the party’s City Hall leader, Caroline Pidgeon AM, said: “With London experiencing a worrying spike in murders since the start of this year I suggest Londoners cannot afford to have a Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime whose key priority seems to be his own political career.”