Ken Livingstone: 35 separate lies on transport

Here’s my second instalment of Ken’s and Boris’s campaign lies – this time on transport. Ken’s groupies often claim that policy and delivery are his strong suits. See if you still believe that after reading through the catalogue of fabrications that is his transport policy.

Remember the ground rules – each lie is only counted once, no matter how many times it is repeated. On this tally Ken or his team have told 79 separate lies in the election campaign – four a week – and Boris or his team 12.

Thirty-five of Ken’s lies and four of Boris’s were about transport and are detailed below.

For Ken’s first 23 lies of the list, on issues of character and personal behaviour, see yesterday’s entry.


Ken on Boris’s fares record in office

24.Claim: Boris Johnson is a transport “pickpocket” who has increased fares far more than Livingstone (Ken advertising campaign).

Reality: Boris put up Travelcard prices only fractionally more than Ken did, and has reduced some fares.

Ken on his own fares record in office

25. Claim: “My fares pledge in the past was to freeze fares in real terms…in fact what happened was that they fell in real terms on the tube and very substantially on buses.” (Guardian, March 26)

Reality: After promising to freeze fares in real terms at the May 2000 election, Livingstone raised bus fares by 43% in January 2004. Inflation was 2.6% at the time. He admits in his own memoirs (page 491): “I decided to increase the fares before the [2004] election.”

After again promising a real-terms freeze at the 2004 election, Livingstone raised fares by up to 25% in early 2005. Inflation was 3.2% at the time. He again now admits in his memoirs (page 497) that he “increase[d] the fares [after the 2004 election]…this meant breaking my promise not to raise fares faster than inflation.”

Government statistics show substantial real-terms rises in fares under Livingstone.

26.Claim: “An independent audit did an analysis of [my record on fares] – and the fares when I left office showed, in real terms after inflation, bus fares were down 9%, and tube fares had gone up, in real terms, 1.4%.” (Ken, Guardian 26 April, BBC Vanessa Feltz show 12 Jan)

Reality: This was not an “independent audit” but figures produced by Mr Livingstone’s transport agency, TfL. Official Department for Transport figures not produced by City Hall show bus fares rose across his eight years by just under 7 per cent in real terms.

27.Claim: “I cut bus fares by 20%

Reality: The single bus fare went up by 43 per cent under Livingstone, from 70p to £1. Shortly before the 2008 election he reduced the fare to 90p, still a rise of 29 per cent.

28. Claim: “I went in to the [2004] election saying I will increase the congestion charge.” (Ken, BBC London, 5 Jan and in some of the debates)

Reality: Mr Livingstone’s 2004 manifesto made no mention of increasing the charge. Nor did he mention it at any point during the campaign. He had previously said that the charge would remain at £5 until at least 2013. However, shortly after being re-elected in 2004, he raised it by 60% – to £8.

Creation of the Freedom Pass

29.Claim: “I brought in the Freedom Pass… it’s the best thing I ever did.” (Ken, BBC London 26 March)

“I have used the mayoralty in the past to deliver things that people said I could not… This is exactly the approach I took with the Freedom Pass – which is not paid for by the mayoral budget, but which I won for older Londoners so that they could travel free on the network.” (Ken, Guardian 26 March) 

This claim has been repeated on many other occasions, including in Ken’s party election broadcast and some of the debates. 

Reality: The GLC introduced London-wide free bus travel for pensioners in 1973, eight years before Livingstone became leader and 27 years before he became mayor. Ken, then a new backbencher, had no involvement with pensioners’ free travel, apart from voting for it with the rest of the Labour group.

The Tory GLC administration of Horace Cutler extended the concession to the Tube (with a 20p flat fare) in 1977. Livingstone’s GLC abolished the afternoon peak restriction and the 20p flat fare on the Tube in 1981/2. The pass was taken over by the boroughs in 1986, after the GLC’s abolition, and rebranded by them as the “Freedom Pass” in the 1990s, before the mayoralty began. Wikipedia’s claim that the Freedom Pass was created in 1984 is wrong.

Affordability of Ken’s fares cut

30.Claim: “We will carry out this ‘Fare Deal’ [fares cut] without cutting future investment or hitting services.” (Ken campaign, Making the Case for the Fare Deal.)

Reality: Channel 4 News’ independent Fact Check blog described this claim as “fiction.” Fact Check quoted TfL’s chief financial officer, Stephen Critchley, who said: “Lower fares revenues in the operating budget mean there will be less operating surplus available to fund capital expenditure that appears in the capital budget.” A TfL board member under Livingstone, Prof Stephen Glaister, said: “They’re right about that. The simple point is that a pound spent on reducing fares is a pound not spent elsewhere. This isn’t magic money.”

31. Claim: A seven per cent fares cut is “a costed and affordable plan.” (Ken, I’ll wipe out January’s fare rise)

Reality: Less than three months previously, Ken had said that a 7 per cent cut was not affordable. “[If] we’d gone for 7% we might have found in that final year there would be a deficit and I’m not prepared to take that risk,” he said.

32.Claim: The 7 per cent fares cut can be financed by “massive profits” being “stockpiled” at TfL (Ken, transport manifesto, p5)

Reality: As Ken himself said when mayor, “we [at TfL] do not make a profit; we are not allowed to make a profit.” (Mayor’s Question Time, 25 Jan 2006.) TfL is of course not a commercial undertaking but is subsidised to the tune of billions of pounds a year by the taxpayer.

33. Claim: The fares cut can be financed by a “huge surplus” being built up in TfL’s operating budget, which is “a completely separate budget to capital budgets which fund investment.” (Ken, campaign website)

Reality: TfL says there is no surplus and no such separation. As Mr Livingstone put it himself when mayor: “There has been some fascinating speculation in the press that I have a £500 million slush fund that I can spend between now and the election. You know me; if I had it I would, but I do not. There is the small matter of the need for TfL to balance its budget in law, and the balances we carry are all allocated against the range of projects coming forward.”  (Mayor’s Question Time, 20 June 2007)

In 2004 Ken made clear that “capital investment will be funded from grant provided by government grant and revenue surpluses.” (press release 12 Oct 2004).

34. Claim: The “surplus” is £206 million (£412 million in a full year).

Reality: TfL says the surplus is in fact £0.

35. Claim: The “surplus” is £338 million.

Reality: TfL says the surplus is in fact £0.

36. Claim: The “surplus” is £729 million.

Reality: TfL says the surplus is in fact £0.

37. Claim: The “surplus” is £830 million.

Reality: TfL says the surplus is in fact £0.

Savings to Londoners from Ken’s fares cut

38.Claim: “My fares cut…will save the average Londoner £1000 [over the four-year mayoral term]” (Ken, press release)

Reality: Livingstone claims, and TfL accepts, that his cut will cost it £269 million a year in revenue, about £1.1 billion over four years. Divided by 7.5 million Londoners this is an average saving of £149 over the four years, or £37 a year, little more than a tenth of that claimed.

39.Claim: “The average public transport fare-payer will be £1000 better off at the end of my mayoral term.”
(Transport manifesto)

Reality: Ken has now taken to making this narrower claim. However it too is untrue. Only a small minority of farepayers – those who commute every day by Tube or rail in the morning peak hour from zones 5 and 6 to central London – will save as much as £1000, as these calculations show. To make his claimed savings look better, Mr Livingstone is calculating them well beyond the end of his mayoral term and is taking the annual saving as the price of 52 weekly Travelcards (p36 of PDF). In fact, an annual Travelcard costs the same as 40 weekly tickets, not 52.

40.Claim: “The average farepayer in zone 2 will save £1000 over the four years.” (BBC London debate, 22 April)

Reality: Even a Zone 2 farepayer making the most expensive journey every day, a daily commute by rail in the peak hour, will only save £613, even assuming Ken delivers his promise. Most farepayers in zone 2 are not, of course, daily peak-hour commuters and will save far less than this.

41. Claim: “The average farepayer in zone 6 will save £1700.” (Ken, BBC London debate, 22 April)

Reality: The saving for a Zone 6 daily peak-hour commuter to zone 1, even if Ken’s promise was implemented, will be £1250. Most farepayers in zone 6 are not daily peak hour commuters and will save far less than this.

42. Claim: “My fare cut alone will make  the average farepayer in Croydon £1,457.70 better off over the next four years, putting £7.15 in their pockets every week.” (Press release)

Reality: Croydon is in zone 5. The actual saving for a daily peak-hour commuter from Ken’s “Fare Deal” would be £1043, assuming it was ever implemented, and most Croydon farepayers would save far less.

Can Ken in any case cut Travelcard prices, which are set jointly with the train companies?

43.Claim: “The Mayor sets the increase [in Travelcard prices] and the train operating companies have to follow that.” (BBC interview, 22 April)

Reality: As Livingstone himself said when Mayor: “Unfortunately, by law I have to increase Travelcards by 1% above the rate of inflation, because they are virtually jointly locked in to the train operating companies. I would need the agreement of the train operating companies to avoid increasing those fares.” (Livingstone, Mayor’s Question Time 20 June 2007)

Boris Johnson’s record

44. Claim: “Boris Johnson has cut a huge number of bus services across London.” (‘Londoners getting more for less,’ p6)

Reality: Bus mileage has in fact increased by 3.5 per cent under Boris, from 289 to 299 million miles a year. Far more routes have increased in frequency than have been reduced.

Ken’s document gives 32 alleged examples of “bus services cut,” of which by its own admission 7 were actually frequency increases, 4 were replaced by other routes, 3 were diversions with no loss of frequency, and 4 were cuts of just one or two journeys a day (two of which were on special once-daily routes used only by schoolchildren.) Every single one of the remaining cuts was minor – for instance, the E3 route was cut from one bus every 6 minutes to one every 6.5 minutes.

45. Claim: The “Sack Boris” group, a Livingstone front funded by the Tube unions, has clamed that service on the Tube under Boris is “plummeting.”

Reality: As Channel 4’s Fact Check blog finds, the Tube has performed “significantly better” on delays and excess journey time under Boris than under Ken, slightly better on station closures, and has seen “striking” reductions in the number of passenger hours lost under Boris.

46. Claim: “Sack Boris” also claims that Johnson has been “bad for cycling.”

Reality: Johnson has invested more than £100 million in cycling, with his bike hire scheme introducing entirely new groups to the bicycle. Cycling on the Transport for London route network has increased by roughly double the rate it did under Livingstone – 15 per cent last year alone. The rate of cyclists killed and seriously injured has fallen since he was elected.

47. Claim: “Tory Boris Johnson took an axe to £3.5 billion of transport infrastructure investment.” (‘More for less, p9)

Reality: Three of the four “infrastructure investment” projects Ken cites – the Cross River Tram, the DLR extension to Dagenham Dock, the tram extension to Crystal Palace, and the Oxford Street tram – were not, and never had been, funded and existed only on paper. The fourth, the Thames Gateway four-lane road bridge, was funded but was cancelled after it was rejected by a public inquiry and after strong local opposition to destructive new roads and traffic. The true figure is thus £450 million (for the bridge), not £3.5 bn.

48. Claim: The new Borismaster bus “is more than ten times the cost of a regular double-decker bus.”(Ibid, p10)

Reality: Ken’s claimed cost of £2.2 million per bus is 45% more than even he was claiming just two weeks ago, about 70% more than the actual cost (£1.3 million) and is in any case just for the first eight prototypes. If the cost of prototypes were an argument against developing new vehicles, we would still be travelling by horse and cart.  TfL says the actual production cost of the new bus will be £315,000 per vehicle, comparable with existing conventional hybrid buses.

49. Claim: Ken’s campaign chair David Lammy claimed that the “full number” of new Borismaster buses will be just eight, hence the high cost per unit.

Reality: TfL says there will be “hundreds.”

50. Claim: The Boris bikes scheme is “costing Londoners over £200 million.” (Ken, More for less, p10)

Reality: The set-up cost of the scheme, including its recent extensions, was £119.8 million of which up to £50 million is met by commercial sponsorship and at least £2 million by individual boroughs, leaving an actual “cost to Londoners” of £67.8 million. The taxpayer is also currently subsidising the running cost to the tune of about £8 million a year, though this is supposed to end within four years. The total liability to taxpayers over Boris’s first term is thus £83.8 million, less than half Ken’s claim.

51. Claim: “Londoners will pay an estimated £60m towards the cable car” (‘More for less,‘ p10)

Reality: The cable car is, as I’ve written, an absurd use of public money – but as always Ken spoils his case by exaggeration. The scheme is costing up to £60 million to build, including contingency, but has secured £36 million of commercial sponsorship and is also bidding for a further £18 million of EU funding. If fares which cover its operating costs are charged, it could end up costing the London taxpayer as little as £6 million. It is in practice likely to be more than that – but nowhere near £60m.

52. Claim: Boris is to blame for delays to the upgrade of Thameslink.

Reality: The Thameslink project is in fact entirely the responsibility of Network Rail and has nothing to do with him.

53. Staffing cuts on the Tube mean there is “no one on the platform, no one at the barrier” (Ken, Sky debate 19.4)

Reality: Ticket office opening hours have been reduced but there is still always a member of staff at every barrier or on the station.

54. Claim: “[Boris Johnson] promised to get the power to fine utility companies who cause delay through badly planned roadworks. Four years later he is still promising.” (Manifesto)

Reality: Untrue; after a great deal of delay by Government, Johnson now has this power.

Future projects

55. Claim: “I will develop [the] DLR extension to Dagenham Dock.” (Press release)

Reality: This would cost £750 million which Ken does not have. Close scrutiny of the small print reveals that he would in fact merely  “put pressure on the Tory government” to fund the scheme from its budget.

56. Claim: I will extend the Croydon Tramlink to Crystal Palace, a project which “has already been assessed as feasible at very modest cost.” (Press release)

Reality: It will cost £170 million at 2009 prices, perhaps £200m today. The link Ken gives to the “feasibility assessment” leads to an enthusiast site run by a tram-spotter.

57. Claim: I will “improve” the suburban rail service by giving all stations help points, passenger information displays and at least four trains an hour.

Reality: Every suburban station already has help points and passenger information displays. 92 per cent of them already have four or more trains an hour.

58. Claim: I will “bring back the zones 2-6 Travelcard.”

Reality: The Zones 2-6 Travelcard never went away.


1.Claim: A Tory MP, Mike Freer, tweeted that Ken wanted to “scrap” Boris’s Tube alcohol ban.

Reality: Untrue – he merely said that he would not have brought it in and has since said that he would keep it.

2.Claim: Boris “delivered” the London Overground while Ken just “talked about” it.

Reality: Untrue; a majority of the money was spent under Boris and it opened on his watch, but the funding was won by Ken and construction started under him.

3.Claim: Boris’s proposal to put the suburban rail service under TfL “would mean lower fares.”

Reality: Travelcard prices are the same whichever service you use. And single fares are nearly always the same, too, sometimes even cheaper (the Oyster peak single from Richmond to Victoria, for instance, is £3.60 on the Tube but only £3.50 on suburban rail.)

4.Claim: Bob Crow would be “handed the keys” to the transport network under Livingstone because Val Shawcross, his candidate for TfL chair, was an RMT “proxy” who had “stood shoulder-to-shoulder” with the union.

Reality: Shawcross joined one RMT demonstration, more than a year ago.

Next instalment: crime, housing, council tax.

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