Next stop in the cost of living campaign, after energy prices, is public transport fares, which are still rising above inflation despite average incomes falling. Boris does a smoke-and-mirrors job on this with a ridiculous proposal in today’s Daily Telegraph for tax relief on season tickets while fares for non-season ticket holders continue to rise above inflation.
His scheme – set out in two paragraphs tacked to the end of a column on the joys of the No. 38 bus – would give a tax break to annual season ticket holders whose employers apply for it on their behalf. Leaving aside the practicalities – why only annual season ticket holders? what about employers who don’t play ball? – this proposal is grossly unfair. It amounts to a big immediate fares cut for season ticket holders, who are generally both in full-time work and better off, so able to afford season tickets, at the expense of the majority of workers who don’t have them.
Annual season ticket holders would get an immediate cut of nearly a third in their fares in saved tax and national insurance. Boris claims it would be “millions of tourists” who would pay more. But the great majority of lower-income Londoners, including part-time workers, don’t have season tickets. They mostly use Oyster pay-as-you-go and, in many cases, would be sensible to do so even if they could afford season tickets.
So this is another gimmick, not a sensible policy. Why is Boris punting it out at all? As a smoke-and-mirrors distraction from the real issue, which is whether this January fares will, yet again, rise faster than inflation. His tax wheeze enables him to say he favours a better deal for working Londoners but is being stopped by the dastardly Treasury. And even if it happened, it would cost less than a fares freeze, and – dare one say – be more targeted on potential Tory voters.
Andrew Adonis is a Labour peer and shadow infrastructure minister. He previously served as transport secretary and schools minister