You might think that there’s nothing particularly special about October 7th. There are no festivals, no public holidays, nothing of particular note at all. But this year October 7th is a very special day, because today is Fare Deal Day.
Except, of course, it isn’t. Had Ken Livingstone won the mayoral election fares across the tube, tram and Overground network would have been slashed by 7%. On the buses the cut would have been 10%. It was estimated that the average fare payer would save £1,000 over the four years of the mayoral term.
But Ken didn’t win, and the fares won’t be coming down. During the election Boris Johnson made a vague pledge to “bear down on fares”. Yet despite repeated questioning by the London Assembly since his re-election he has been unable to enlighten us as to what this means for fare payers.
Over on his London blog, the Guardian’s Dave Hill has set out how high fares are disadvantaging London and Londoners. Fares here compare unfavourably with most other major world cities. Yet the current mayor just doesn’t seem to care.
A major part of Ed Miliband’s conference speech focussed on the need to cut the cost of living through lower fares and cheaper fuel. If there was a Labour mayor in City Hall rather than a Tory mayor this is exactly what we would be doing now.
The powers of the Mayor of London are relatively limited, but Labour’s manifesto for the London elections demonstrated how creative thinking could deliver workable policies that go beyond the statutory powers of the mayor’s office. Beyond the headline pledge of the Fare Deal, the manifesto set out a raft of policies which would have put money back into the pockets of ordinary Londoners.
First there was a bold pledge to establish an energy co-operative using the buying power of Transport for London to purchase cheap fuel and sell it back to Londoners at a discount. Then there was the childcare pledge which would have offered grants interest-free loans to cover the upfront costs of childcare in a city with the highest childcare costs in the world. A London-wide lettings agency would have dealt with some of the rip-off fees charged by commercial lettings agents. And last but not least a London EMA, which would have helped young people stay in education.
There was no such vision in Boris Johnson’s manifesto, which offered nothing to help ordinary Londoners with the rising cost of living here. Even the fairly modest promises Johnson made are beginning to unravel as he revealed to the London Assembly last month that one of his headline pledges to maintain police numbers would be “difficult” to fulfil.
That’s not to say that Boris Johnson lacks imagination. His madcap scheme to build an airport on top of a bird sanctuary and a sunken ship full of unexploded World War II bombs in the Thames Estuary is a testament to the mayor’s mental artistry. But here in the real world Londoners are crying out for some practical help with the ever-rising cost of living.
Tom Copley is a member of the London Assembly