Ken Livingstone's short memory on fare rises

Public transport fares in London are too high (Photo: PA)
Public transport fares in London are too high (Photo: PA)

Higher public transport fares came in this week – and some of the increases, as first revealed by this blog, are swingeing. This could be a great issue for Labour – who have quite rightly been out on the streets today, highlighting it. But it’s also yet another reminder of the party’s ghastly mistake in choosing Ken Livingstone as its frontman.

For every time Ken attacks Boris Johnson for raising fares, he can truthfully be reminded that he did exactly the same – or worse.

Ken has a piece in today’s Standard claiming that “my approach when I was Mayor was always, wherever possible, to hold down fare rises to those things that are necessary for running the service and investing in its future — in other words, aiding ordinary Londoners.”

This simply isn’t true – as the figures show.  Ken protests today that between 2008 and 2011, the single Oyster bus fare under Boris has risen by 44 per cent (from 90p to £1.30.) “Over the past three years, we’ve got used to soaring fares,” he says.

We got used to it long before then, Ken. In the shorter period between 2005 and 2007, the single Oyster bus fare under Livingstone rose by 42 per cent (from 70p to £1) – without even the excuse of a massive public spending deficit and a huge investment programme to fund.

In one year alone, 2007, there was a 25 per cent increase in the off-peak Oyster bus fare, greater than any rise Boris has imposed on it.

The fare was cut to 90p a few months before the 2008 election, but leaked emails revealed that Ken was secretly planning massive fare increases – indeed, exactly the fare increases that were subsequently imposed by Boris – once re-elected. Ken lied about his intentions, telling the London Assembly before the election that he was going to freeze fares in real terms. Luckily, some public-spirited person leaked me and the BBC the emails.

Today, Ken makes another highly questionable promise on future fares. He states: “I guarantee that in all circumstances, fares in the next Mayoral term will not be as high under me if I am elected, than they would be under a second Boris Johnson term.” Even assuming he is not lying again about his own intentions, how can he possibly know what Boris intends to do?

Public transport fares in London are too high, but that is at least as much because of Transport for London’s extravagance as for any other reason. To me, TfL often seems to be a mechanism to redistribute wealth from poor and middle-income passengers to well-paid train drivers and managers (more than 230 of whom are on six-figure salaries.) It spends immodest sums of money on very modest projects (£23 million on the first two cycle superhighways, for instance, which are little more than blue paint on a road.)

The main criticism of Boris should be that he has done too little to address the organisation’s bloated nature. But Team Ken’s principal contribution on this side has been to oppose, at the behest of their Tube union funders, even the modest economies which TfL is trying to make.

During their campaign against last year’s fare increases, Labour sensibly kept Ken in the background. But now they’ve picked the old boy as their candidate, they can’t very well avoid using him. The truth is that both Boris and Ken have a track record of substantially raising fares. But Boris has a track record of being slightly more honest about it.

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