On Wednesday the London Assembly got to spend 2 hours quizzing Boris Johnson and Transport Commissioner Sir Peter Hendy on TfL’s budget, performance and future plans.
Among the topics discussed – New Bus for London, fare increases and savings – was the old chestnut of free passes for the spouses, partners and, according to the Tory group, “flatmates and lodgers” of TfL staff.
The lodgers and flatmates reference stems from the fact that the nominee must simply live at the employee’s address, no deeper relationship is needed in order for them to qualify.
Over the years both Mayors have answered this criticism by pointing out that it’s impossible for TfL to check the nature of a relationship and I’d swear to once hearing Ken Livingstone say he had no desire to pop round people’s homes checking their bed sheets for evidence of a sex life before issuing an Oyster card.
And though it’s always possible I dreamt that last bit as I drifted off to sleep as the issue came up at MQTs for the 367th time since City Hall opened its doors, at least one other person has a vague recollection of him saying it or something quite like it.
What history does record is him questioning why the number of nominee passes exceeded the number of staff and ruling out of the probability of 100 bigamists on the TfL staff accounting for the discrepancy.
Which isn’t quite a lurid but does show that a careful watch needs to be kept over such perks to ensure only those entitled to benefit do so.
The objection to the pass in general is founded on the belief that it robs TfL of much needed income by giving away free daily travel to thousands of people who would otherwise pay.
But Boris, like Ken before him, says this is untrue and that many of those who currently have a nominee pass might not use TfL services if asked to pay so it’s impossible to calculate any revenue gains.
He also maintains that the scheme has no cost to TfL, telling AMs in November: “The cost of providing free travel to nominees of TfL staff is nil, as the amount of travel is insufficient to require additional services to be operated to cope with it.”
What troubles some Tory AMs is that Boris’s defence of the scheme sounds so remarkably like Ken’s that they suspect he’s merely mouthing words written by TfL and not really challenging them.
Today Boris fleshed out his argument for the status quo, telling Conservative Assembly Member Tony Arbour that the amount of fare revenue generated by axing the scheme would be too small to justify the aggro.
By which we can assume he means the strikes from disgruntled staff who have come to view the pass for their loved one – or, as the Tories would have it, their mate who helps with the rent – as part of their contractual entitlement.
Officially it’s not, but it’s been suggested to me that the perk, first introduced in the 1930’s according to Ken, is such an established part of the employment package that a tribunal could consider it an absolute entitlement for all existing staff.
Asked why didn’t simply not offer new TfL staff the nominee pass, Boris said this would create 2 tiers of staff, not something that seems to bother him when wearing his Police Boss hat.
But then the cops can’t strike.
The Tories aren’t alone in questioning the nominee pass, City Hall’s Liberal Democrat contingent have also long questioned its existence.
But for now it looks set to stay, which means in about 12 months time we can look forward to the increasingly stale arguments for and against being given yet another airing.