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Monday, June 17, 2024

London mayor freezes Tube and bus fares to boost office return amidst post-pandemic shifts

Sadiq Khan has said his decision to freeze most Tube and bus fares will encourage more London workers back to the office.

The mayor announced last week that pay-as-you-go fares – which account for around 80 per cent of Tube journeys and 74 per cent of bus journeys – would remain unchanged until March next year.

Speaking at a London Assembly meeting on Thursday, Mr Khan said the Covid pandemic “led to a change in behaviour of commuters across the globe”, but that on average, ridership on the Tube is now at 90 per cent of pre-pandemic levels during the week and on weekends is “sometimes north of 100 per cent”.

He added: “We think this fare freeze will encourage even more people back than would otherwise be the case. It will attract more people away from hybrid working to office working.

“But also really importantly, it affects business rates when it comes to next year, [and] support London’s hospitality, culture and retail sectors – which is really important to our city.”

Mr Khan’s comments came as he faced questions from assembly members over the latest draft of his budget for the coming year – including whether he may soon be making another surprise announcement on transport.

Liberal Democrat member Caroline Pidgeon asked about the pot of funding being used to pay for the fare freeze.

The mayor’s chief of staff, David Bellamy, told her that the £123 million required to pay for it had come from a £147 million pot called the transport innovation fund.

Ms Pidgeon asked the mayor what he plans to do with the remaining £24 million, to which he said: “I’ve not decided yet – so what I’ll be doing over the course of the next few weeks is setting out where that money will be spent, if at all.”

She replied: “So we can expect another announcement of a new initiative over the coming weeks for £24 million.”

Mr Khan said: “If I decide to do so.”

Conservative member Peter Fortune asked whether the mayor is considering the introduction of “Taylor Swift-style pricing for transport fares”.

The question was a reference to the dynamic pricing used by Taylor Swift during her Reputation tour in 2018, though it has also been used by Bruce Springsteen. A similar model is used by airlines – with the idea being that lower fares are available the earlier they are booked, but increase as the date of travel approaches.

With Transport for London (TfL) fares, dynamic pricing would potentially involve prices rising and falling in accordance with demand on the network.

Mr Khan’s transport deputy, Seb Dance, said in December that TfL had “been tasked with looking at various options” for a more flexible form of pricing, though TfL commissioner Andy Lord cautioned that there are “some hard IT challenges” which would need to be overcome first.

At Thursday’s meeting however, Mr Bellamy said: “[Fares are] certainly something we’ve been talking about and looking at – we are certainly not in a kind of Taylor Swift-type scenario I think.

“One thing very important to remember that we consider is that people need certainty about what fares they may pay if they decide to undertake their journey.”

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