The cost of travelling by public transport

Questions to the Mayor of London – answered on 29th November 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Siân Berry Siân Berry Green

Do you agree that it is unfair that it costs more to use public transport than to drive in London?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Thank you, Chair. Since I was first elected in 2016, keeping public transport fares low has been a top priority for me. As well as introducing the Hopper bus fare, allowing passengers to make unlimited free bus and tram transfers within an hour, I froze all pay-as-you-go fares for the whole of my first term as Mayor. Fares increased earlier this year only because they were required to do so by the Government’s part of the last TfL funding deal. Public transport remains the cheapest and most attractive option for many journeys. Hopper bus and tram fares are £1.55 and pay-as-you-go fares are capped daily and weekly. The daily charge for travelling in zones one and two is capped at £7.40, which is considerably less than the Congestion Charge. I have also protected concessions, including the 60-plus Oyster card and the under-18 Zip Oyster card, despite the Government’s best efforts to have them removed.

It is fair that, like public transport users, people who drive pay for the full impact of their travel. London suffers from the worst traffic congestion in the UK and the Congestion Charge is designed to encourage motorists to use other modes of transport. It has helped London become the only major city in the world to see a shift from private car use to public transport, walking and cycling.

Of course, it would be unfair for people using the TfL public transport network to carry the burden of the lack of adequate funding from Government. It is unfair that revenue raised from car owners in London is not available to pay for the upkeep of the roads they use in the same way that, for example, Tube customers pay for the maintenance of the trains they use through the fares they pay. This leads to a situation where London public transport users are subsidising London private car drivers. That is why I have repeatedly called on the Government to devolve London’s share of the Vehicle Excise Duty to the capital. As we approach the deadline for the next TfL funding deal, I hope we can work together to lobby the Government before 11 December [2021].

Photo of Siân Berry Siân Berry Green

Thank you very much, Mr Mayor. I was not expecting to have tabled the last ever Mayor’s question answered in this Chamber, but I appear to be in that position and so let us make it a good one.

Photo of Andrew Boff Andrew Boff Conservative

It depends how long you go on for.

Photo of Siân Berry Siân Berry Green

Thank you very much, Mr Mayor. Other cities are far behind us on this relative cost of driving and public transport, but I have been looking at the bigger picture across London, trying to add up every kilometre that people travel and every penny that people pay on different modes. No matter what I do, it comes out that people are paying more per kilometre for public transport travel across the piece than for driving in private cars. If you are expecting people to change behaviour, the macroeconomics of this just are not right. We are not following the road user hierarchy in economic terms if people are paying less per kilometre to drive than they are to take public transport.

If this one important macroeconomic lever is not being pulled right now, how are you, Mr Mayor, proposing to fix this?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

The problem with your question is it is based on an assumption that there has not been a shift from private car use to walking, cycling and public transport. There has been, which shows our policies are working. We have seen a shift since the ULEZ was introduced. We have seen a shift before that with the Congestion Charge. I am hoping to see a further shift with the expansion of the ULEZ.

It is a fact, as I am regularly reminded by my friends up north, that public transport in London is cheaper than in other parts of the country, but it is a fact, as I remind them, that driving a car in London is far more expensive than in other parts of the country.

Photo of Siân Berry Siân Berry Green

I agree that we are ahead of other cities and I agree that we have been talking all day about the other levers that you might use, but the way I see it, I have always talked about having a prescription of three active ingredients, if you like, to clear congestion: prioritising space on the street, genuinely improving public transport with better buses and trains, and then price and these relative costs that we have been talking about.

In reality, we have some councils reversing Streetspace measures. We have on public transport huge jeopardy in terms of improvements because of the situation with the Government. As we are not getting the modes of transport relative costs right either, literally none of these active ingredients are actually active right now in London.

I have asked the question about costs because there is this important thing that I have talked about many times in this Chamber that you have not taken action on, which is smarter, fairer road charging. I want to know if you are making any progress on that particular active ingredient.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Again, the first part of your question is a misrepresentation because we have the boldest active travel policies of any global city in the world. We have increased fivefold the amount of safe cycling in our city. We have now increased the amount of walking space by 21,000 square metres. We are providing active travel in our city. We now have more than 400 School Streets just in the last year so that more children, their parents and their carers are walking, cycling or scootering to and from school, including teachers and staff using other forms of public transport as well. It is not true to say that we do not have active travel in London.

I have always said we will keep under review road user charging, including smart road user charging. We are looking at the technology, and we are doing work in relation to what we can do to make sure we have road user charging always kept under review. That is one of the reasons why I consulted, up until 6 October, on a permanent change to the Congestion Charge rather than the temporary increase imposed upon us by the Government. The ULEZ expansion is a good example of the road user charge scheme.

Look, we are always keeping these things under review. I am always happy to work closely with you on these issues because both of us have the same ambition with the ends ‑‑

Photo of Siân Berry Siân Berry Green

Yes. In light of some of the really micro discussions that were going on earlier on, I want to keep that bigger picture in mind and to keep these three active ingredients going in the right direction. At the moment, they are in danger of going backwards and we need to make sure that does not happen.

Photo of Andrew Boff Andrew Boff Conservative

I am afraid you are not going to be able to answer that, Mr Mayor, because the Green Group is now out of time. I apologise. You are free to go, Mr Mayor. Those are all the questions.