City Hall’s Tories are at it again – for about the hundred and twentieth time in 17 years they’ve set out to persuade Londoners that Transport for London is depriving the taxpayer of tens of millions of pounds in fare revenue by letting staff give their “flatmates” a free Oyster card.
This is a deliberately over-simplified and misleading way of describing a long standing staff benefit which primarily gives spouses and partners free travel on London’s transport network.
Conservatives on the London Assembly don’t like the “perk” – even some of those who’ve previously taken up the free travel card available to Assembly Members have argued that a benefit enjoyed by those who have to fit their careers and childcare needs around staff who work less sociable hours than any AM is expected to should be axed.
The original position of some former AMs was that the pass should be limited to those who were married but, under the Livingstone-era City Hall, this was never going to happen because it would have discriminated against same-sex couples.
Even now when marriage is an option available to everyone, many people for entirely good reasons of their own don’t want to get hitched.
In more recent years the call has simply been to axe the free pass for all nominees – this avoids the party looking as if it’s homophobic or has views about cohabiting which hail from the 1950s but still leaves it looking mean-spirited and vindictive.
Claims that tens of millions of pounds would flow into TfL’s coffers if only the Mayor listened to the Tories have been rubbished not just by TfL and Livingstone but also by Boris Johnson who two years ago said it would generate “no more than £5-7 million at most”.
What it would also generate is a large amount of industrial unhappiness and, potentially, legal action with courts asked to rule that the long-provided passes were an implied part of workers’ contracted benefits.
Whatever the eventual outcome of such a case, it’s likely Londoners would endure more of the disruptive, economy harming strikes which the Tories like to criticise Sadiq Khan for not avoiding.
Like the pre-Christmas slamming of Sadiq’s attempts to improve the pay and conditions of bus drivers, it’s hard to see how this assault on the families of London’s essential frontline transport workers fits in with Theresa May’s promises that her party is now on the side of the workers.
After almost two decades, it’s time for Tory AMs to stop reissuing the same press release and finally reconcile themselves to the fact that some public sector workers also enjoy workplace benefits.