Negotiations with train operators to allow Freedom Pass holders to use rail services in the capital at any time of the day are unlikely to start before Easter according to Mayor of London Boris Johnson.
Although Freedom Pass holders can now access most Transport for London services all day, they are only able to travel for free on weekday national rail services after 9.30am.
During his election campaign the Mayor promised to extend the Freedom Pass so it could be used 24 hours a day, however earlier this year opposition Assembly Members and some older person’s groups accused him of failing to make clear the promise didn’t extend to rail services which are not under the control of TfL.
Responding in June to a question from Liberal Democrat Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon, Mayor Johnson promised to work with the national train operating companies “with a view to negotiating wider Freedom Pass acceptance from January 2010.”
However in an answer provided to Pidgeon last week, the Mayor said “protracted negotiations” over the implementation of Oyster Pay As You Go on the rail network had delayed any potential extension of the Freedom Pass operating hours.
According to Johnson’s answer, a new data system which will allow TfL and train operators to “build up a representative picture of Freedom Pass use” will now only come into operation in January.
Johnson says once the new system is up and running “TfL will then begin to analyse and interpret the data and discuss the emerging implications with ATOC [the Association of Train Operating Companies]. As a result, meaningful negotiations between ATOC and TfL are likely to commence soon after Easter 2010.”
The Mayor has long made clear his position that any agreement to extend the Pass “must represent good value for money for Londoners, and fair compensation for the fare revenue lost, not a windfall bonus for the Train Companies.”
Earlier this month London Councils, the pan-London body which represents the capital’s local authorities and funds and administers the Freedom Pass, claimed ATOC members were “seeking an increase of 25 per cent in the compensation they receive for carrying Freedom Pass holders” under current arrangements. The body also warned the amount boroughs pay to the train operating companies would jump from £12 million in 2009/10 to at least £15 million in 2010/11.
In recent weeks it emerged that funding for the Freedom Pass is under threat with Ministers seeking to slash almost £29m from the sums they make available to London’s boroughs to provide the scheme.
Although most of the scheme is funded by the capital’s boroughs, the Government provides additional money to cover the cost of providing free off-peak bus travel in the capital. In November the Department for Transport announced plans to “re-open consultation” on the final year of a previously agreed three-year funding package for this element of the scheme’s funding. London Councils Chair Merrick Cockell warned any reduction in funding “could impact on the services boroughs provide.”
Transport Minister Sadiq Khan has dismissed concerns that cuts could create a funding shortfall, insisting the move was prompted by evidence showing “that some authorities, including London, may have received significantly more [funding] than required”.
Khan also says London and other apparently overpaid authorities will be able “to retain over half of the surplus grant that we estimate they would receive under the 2010/11 distribution”, a move the Minister says will make such authorities “comparatively better off” then those who receive an increase under proposed revisions.
Earlier this year it emerged the Mayor had agreed with London Councils to give away his ‘reserve powers’ to determine the level of funding the body should make available if it is unable to reach agreement with TfL.