After a bit of chasing I finally received responses from Transport for London and City Hall to my request for the “emails, briefing documents and other paperwork between TfL and City Hall” relating to Sadiq’s fares freeze.
The response is a little slim, largely because officers had a nice natter about how to limit their interpretation of the request so that it only applied to the media announcement and the associated press briefing, rather than TfL’s advice and briefings to the Mayor.
An important lesson to anyone submitting an FOI – always ensure it’s as clear as possible and the wriggle room is limited.
However it’s clear from the emails exchanged (obtained under a separate FOI request) that officials knew exactly what I was after and, despite their new boss’s pledge to lead the “most transparent” City Hall administration ever, worked as hard as they could to avoid providing it:
Just further to our conversation yesterday about this Mayorwatch request, we think it’s reasonable to interpret the request as only asking for the specific information created in preparation for the announcement. We are also only including information exchanged between the GLA and TfL.
Obviously I’ve now sent a second, narrower request for the fares advice supplied by TfL to the Mayor – the same information Labour Assembly Members rightly pressured Boris into agreeing to routinely publish – and the taxpayer will now have to pick up the tab for all the work that entails.
The information which was released is largely pretty bland, though discussions on whether to grant ITV’s Simon Harris an on-camera interview and Sadiq’s dismay that press officers failed to headline the claim that the freeze can be delivered without harming investment do add some colour.
But the real gem is an email sent by TfL to the Mayor’s office on May 12th offering to work up a policy which INCLUDED freezing the cost of travel on national rail services:
A paper is coming over to you ASAP on the fares freeze to show how it can be funded but we will need to sit down with you (say Wednesday morning) because there are some decisions that will need to be made – how far you want to extend the freeze, just on TfL services or on national rail services too.
Clearly, and rightly, TfL was willing to cost up and deliver whatever policy the Mayor asked of them yet when the freeze was finally announced it excluded all national rail services as well as contactless and Oyster capping.
So why wasn’t the freeze extended to all rail users and Travelcard holders?
TfL must have had some idea how they could fund this if they offered their new boss the option. They were hardly going to ask ‘hey, wanna freeze Travelcards?’ and then, when the Mayor said yes, go back and tell him it’s impossible.
So seemingly someone at the Mayor’s end told them not to. But why?
This is why the fares advice should be published and this is why Labour AMs were right to pressure Boris into, belatedly, promising to publish the advice which underpinned his annual fares hikes.
At some point I’m sure Sadiq will live up both to his pledge to run the “most transparent” City Hall administration and his own colleagues’ belief in transparency around fares decisions and finally publish the advice.
But in the meantime, especially in light of the obvious efforts to avoid providing me with the information, we’re allowed to suspect that something in the documentation is incredibly unhelpful to City Hall’s new occupant.
Update: Unbidden and unrequested, the TfL press office sent through the following statement at 23.18 on Friday:
“The Mayor made it clear in his manifesto that he would freeze all TfL fares and charges for the cycle hire scheme for four years.
“Any freeze of fares in London beyond those in the Mayor’s control would have been unprecedented and there is no process for the Mayor delivering this.
“Both the Mayor and TfL continue to make the case for rail fares in London to be frozen by the TOCs and Government, as well as for more suburban rail services to be transferred to TfL as quickly as possible. This would mean that more Londoners would benefit, and help ensure that London gets a world-class rail service.”
All of which is lovely, though you have wonder why TfL themselves offered to draw up a freeze which covered national rail if it’s such an outrageous thing to do.
But as everyone’s so happy with the decision that was taken, there’s presumably no problem with “the most transparent” Mayor ever following the (grudging and delayed) example of his predecessor and publishing the advice TfL did give him?