London mayor calls on govt to retain free travel for children
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has resumed his war of words with the government over the conditions attached to London's £1.6bn transport system bailout.
In a letter to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, Khan said the decision to withdraw all free travel for children under 18 should be scrapped.
The government claims that people returning to work as coronavirus lockdown measures were eased should be a priority on a system where social distancing measures will mean less space on trains and buses.
Khan said that at around a third of children who travel to school by bus were entitled to free travel by law, and withdrawing the benefit would leave the cost with already cash-strapped local councils.
“It is abundantly clear that losing free travel would hit the poorest Londoners hardest at a time when finances are stretched more than ever,” he said in his letter to Shapps.
TfL faced going bust as the government imposed a lockdown and fare revenues collapsed, leaving the capital's transport operator to burn through cash reserves. The deal left it with a £500m debt burden and conditions that were not imposed on other rail operators that received corporate welfare.
Shapps also demanded that London's congestion charge, designed to reduce traffic and cut pollution and suspended during the lockdown, should be increased to £15 a day from the current £11.50. A copy of correspondence from the Department for Transport (DfT) published by TfL confirmed the changes were mandatory in return for the bailout cash.
Khan, who faces re-election this year in a delayed poll, said the conditions were punishing Londoners for "doing the right thing on Covid-19".
His opponent in the mayoral race, Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey, has claimed that the decision to lift the congestion charge was Khan's alone, despite the confirmation by Shapps and his department.
The DfT letter includes a demand for “the immediate reintroduction of the London Congestion Charge... and proposals to widen the scope and levels of these charges”.