Today, fares on London Transport have increased above the level of inflation for the fifth time in a row under Boris Johnson. The cumulative effect of his Mayorality on transport prices has been a 55% increase in the price of a bus journey and a 52% increase for a zone 1-4 tube journey. In addition to some of the highest property prices in the world, London now is now head-and-shoulders above other capital cities when it comes to transport costs, with a day Travelcard costing a third more than an equivalent in Paris and three times more than an equivalent in Berlin.
The overwhelming picture for the majority of Londoners is a City slowly sliding out of view: working people are not only being priced out of living in the capital but are now being priced out of travelling there too. The backdrop to the Mayor’s fares explosion is a stagnation in earnings – median income for full time workers in London has grown by just 2% since the start of Johnson’s 1st term and almost 1 million Londoners are currently unemployed or underemployed doing part-time jobs. The more pennies pinched from us as we travel to and from work means we have even less money to enjoy a City where a cinema ticket costs upwards of a tenner and you’d be lucky to get much change from a fiver for a pint in a pub.
In response to this pressure on the cost of living the Mayor has barely lifted a finger. His unimaginative stab at a transport plan, published last month, was predicated on increasing fares above inflation for the next ten years. By the end of his second term, his fares escalator will ensure that bus fares will be edging towards £2 a journey and a 20 minute Tube journey from Finchley Central to Euston could cost as much as £5.
Will the increase in fares at least pay for a more modern, more efficient, less crowded transport system? The refurbishment of the London Underground network – parts of which will be 150 years old this year – is much-needed, but what about expansions that will prepare London for the estimated one million increase in its population over the next decade? Ken Livingstone developed the London Overground orbit and secured his legacy with Crossrail. By contrast, Boris has invested in vanity projects: million pound Routemaster buses and cable cars whose novelty (and viability) extinguished in its first 6 months of service. The pinnacle of his underground ambitions is a two station spur of the Northern Line that will connect Kennington to the new American Embassy in Battersea. Even his most visible legacy, the so-called ‘Boris Bikes’ is testament more to his PR machine than a vision for cycling (which continues to suffer from underinvestment, unnecessary dangers and, as a consequence, underutilisation).
A worthy transport strategy for London has to balance long-term improvements in infrastructure with short-term affordability while people feel squeezed. Under this Mayor, neither is taking place. Meanwhile, our transport network is becoming more expensive, more crowded and even more unfit for a modern, growing, global city. On entering the most important years of his second term, Boris Johnson has yet to develop a vision for our capital.
David Lammy is the Member of Parliament for Tottenham