It did not take Sadiq Khan long to start breaking promises once he had been elected as Mayor. One of the first and most disappointing was his failure to live up to his pre-election pledge that Londoners “won’t pay a penny more in 2020 than you do now.”
It’s worth noting that Sadiq Khan referred to his fares freeze hundreds of times during the campaign and in his manifesto, under the heading “These are my 10 priorities for London”, he claimed he would:
“Freeze London transport fares for four years and introduce a one-hour bus ‘Hopper’ ticket, paid for by making TfL more efficient and exploring new revenue-raising opportunities. Londoners won’t pay a penny more for their travel in 2020 than they do today.”
There is no question that Sadiq Khan misled Londoners. The only question is whether this was deliberate or due to incompetence.
However it has been possible over the last 9 months to shine a light on the matter.
In August, Martin Hoscik of this very site, received a response to an FOI request that revealed that TfL had written an e-mail to the Mayor’s office saying:
“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.”
Sadiq Khan has repeatedly claimed that a fares freeze that included Travelcards was impossible. That email shows that claim is wrong.
Last Thursday Martin received a further FOI response, TfL’s actual briefing note. This further emphasised that freezing the cost of Travelcards is entirely possible.
Particularly interesting is the note at the top of page 3, which reads:
“Note – The £1.1bn estimate for the ﬁve-year period of the previous Mayor’s Business Plan is lower than £1.9bn because of lower-than forecast actual passenger growth and changes in inﬂation forecasts for 2016 (revised from 3.5% to 1.9% earlier this year). In line with the scope of the previous Mayor’s real-terms freezes, previous estimates included the ﬁnancial impact on us of freezing Travelcards (and pegged daily/weekly Oyster/contactless caps), which would be an additional £660m over ﬁve years.”
The fact that TfL had done work on the assumption that they might need to freeze all fares and that this would cost an average of £132 million per year or £528 million over the 4 years of a Mayoral term is now indisputable.
All through this messy situation, the Mayor’s defence of his actions has rested on three claims:
First that he never intended to freeze all fares.
This is dubious. We know that TfL thought he might want to do so. We also know that at least one of his Labour Assembly Members believed he planned a proper fares freeze. Leonie Cooper, the Assembly Member for Merton and Wandsworth, tweeted during the campaign that Sadiq Khan’s fares freeze “does not exclude pay as you go, season tickets, anything. Ok?” Added to the Evening Standard article, it is clear that at best Sadiq Khan was wilfully misleading.
Secondly Sadiq Khan has frequently said a full fares freeze was impossible. The TfL document proves that’s not true.
Thirdly, Sadiq Khan has claimed that he has never asked for or received any fares advice. Instead he claims that he simply instructed TfL to do what he wanted and deliver a TfL-only fares freeze.
If this claim is false then that statement would not be true. However in many ways it would be worse if his claim is true. For any Mayor to refuse to listen to any advice on the ramifications of a decision would be a gross dereliction of duty. The Mayor is the Chair of the TfL Board. How could he properly take responsibility for TfL’s decisions if he was unwilling to listen to or read TfL’s advice?
The further point is equally worrying. If the Mayor did avoid ever seeing or reading TfL’s advice on this then, unless someone tried to tell him the advice and he refused to hear it, we are left with the possibility that at least one person must have deliberately kept the advice from him.
TfL sent their briefing note to the Mayor’s office so, given the logic of what Sadiq Khan has said, the person who received that note must have deliberately kept it from the Mayor. If someone in my office did that, they would be sacked.
The Mayor promised Londoners a 4-year fares freeze. When it became clear that he wasn’t going to deliver that freeze, he could have apologised and explained that the cost was more than he had initially believed. Instead he has failed to tell the truth repeatedly.
If he were a Cabinet Minister there would be calls for his resignation today. As it is he has serious questions to answer.