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Has Sadiq Khan already broken his promise of a fares freeze?

Londoners "won't pay a penny more"... on single fares only.

By Barbara Speed

In his manifesto released before May’s mayoral election, Sadiq Khan pledged to freeze “all TfL fares” and bike hire charges. It’s a promise Boris Johnson also made in his day, and his failure to keep it is often used as evidence of his disingenuousness. 

However, only a month after his election, critics are already accusing Khan of breaking his promise that Londoners “won’t pay a penny more” on their travel. The mayor has announced changes to TfL which make clear that the promise applied only to “single fares” , which means fares for daily, weekly, monthly or yearly railcards will still go up.

The daily and weekly “cap” for Oyster card and contactless fares will also continue to rise. Additionally, the freeze will not apply to single fares on suburban rail services which are not under TfL’s control, though Khan also plans to bring more of these under the TfL umbrella. In practice, Khan’s freeze will benefit tourists who visit London, not commuters. 

In response, Caroline Pidgeon, Liberal Democrat London Assembly member, told Khan: “I think you have broken your fares promise today.”

Meanwhile, this freeze on single fares will cost around £640m, according to mayor’s office estimates. This is substantially higher than the £450m quoted during the campaign.

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A spokesperson for Sadiq Khan says:

The fares freeze will benefit 96 per cent of commuting Londoners. Sadiq only has the power to set the fares on TfL services, which is why he will continue to push the government to follow his example by freezing their own fares and transferring suburban rail services to TfL as quickly as possible, so that even more passengers benefit from his fares policy.

Over at CityMetric, we noted during the campaign that this pledge, if understood as a freeze on all fares, would be near-impossible to keep. In November, Rachel Holdsworth predicted on the site that the fares freeze would be Khan’s “first broken promise“:

Money isn’t magic. If fares are frozen – and a mayor could freeze, or cut them, if the political will was strong enough – the cash has to come from somewhere.

This is usually the point where someone mentions TfL’s reserves, which is what a large part of the 2012 mayoral election revolved around. Labour said the reserves could be used to reduce fares; TfL said it was all earmarked for future upgrades and new infrastructure.

TfL’s budgets are notoriously impenetrable but the general consensus these days is that yes, the reserves are needed elsewhere.