One of Boris Johnson’s key aides and a contender to replace him next May has accused the mayor of ‘fleecing’ public transport users.
Speaking on LBC radio’s Conservative mayoral hustings last night Johnson’s deputy mayor for policing Stephen Greenhalgh, who is responsible for overseeing the Met, also appeared to criticise his boss’s record in cutting waste within the capital’s transport agency.
Since coming to office in 2008 Mr Johnson has sanctioned a series of above inflation fares increases which he says are necessary to deliver upgrades to the capital’s transport network and ensure the city can continue to service its growing population.
Despite increases in individual fares, many passengers saw an overall reduction in the cost of their daily commute this January after Johnson ordered Transport for London to cut the daily cap paid by Oyster pay as you go users.
However this has failed to address many critics’ concerns that public transport is in danger of becoming unaffordable to low and modest paid workers.
In response to these concerns, many of those hoping to replace Mr Johnson as mayor when he steps down next year have promised fares cuts or freezes, including Greenhalgh who is one of four rivals vying to become the Conservative party’s candidate and has proposed a “modest” cut of 3% per year.
Earlier this year TfL, which is chaired by the mayor, briefed that Greenhalgh’s pledge “would inevitably result in cuts to current plans to improve and expand London’s transport network” including upgrades to the London Overground and purchase of new Tube trains.
Undeterred, Mr Greenhalgh used his appearance on LBC last night to suggest Johnson had failed to clamp down on TfL’s overheads and that passengers were paying too much as a result.
Describing TfL as “an organisation that can be leaner and more efficient” with scope for “huge” back office savings, he added: “we’ve got to have a mayoralty that is not going to continue to fleece the fare-paying public.”
Responding to his deputy’s remarks, Mr Johnson told this site: “In London I’ve fought to keep fares at RPI over the last 2 years.
“We are going to continue to bear down on fares, as I promised in 2012, that is absolutely right, but only in so far as is consistent with the vital investment we need to meet the increasing demand posed by London’s growing population whilst still providing a fantastic service for all passengers in London.
“As for future mayoral hopefuls they have to take their decisions, but mine are based on what is best for the city.”
However Val Shawcross, Labour’s transport spokesperson on the London Assembly, said Mr Greenhalgh’s comments proved that concerns about the mayor’s fares increases were justified.
She commented: “Even if it smacks of political opportunism, its welcome to see that Stephen Greenhalgh has finally woken up to the harsh impact of Boris Johnson’s years of inflation busting fare rises.
“It’s a shame that for eight years Greenhalgh has remained silent on this important issue instead of speaking out and using his prominent position to do something about it. It doesn’t exactly show the kind of leadership you’d expect from an aspiring Mayoral candidate.”
And Mr Greenhalgh’s comments about clamping down on waste at TfL prompted criticism from Caroline Pidgeon, leader of the Liberal Democrat group on the Assembly, who said he’d failed to ensure “that every pound spent by the Met is wisely spent” by not removing perks such as chauffeur-driven cars from senior officers.
She added: “When we are seeing serious increases in a number of criminal offences in London it would help if the Deputy mayor for Policing concentrated a little more on his day job as opposed to making such fanciful claims about TfL – an organisation he clearly knows very little about.”
Ms Pidgeon, who is expected to be confirmed as her party’s mayoral candidate in the coming weeks, also backed warnings about uncosted fares cuts, saying: “We need to keep investing in upgrading our transport network to cope with growing passenger demand.
“Slashing fares may make a great headline but the impact of it would lead to poorer quality services.”