Letter To Ken Livingstone
Re Free Public Transport

Ken Livinstone was (the first) Mayor of London from May 2000 to May 2008; he was succeeded by Boris Johnson. The detailed reply below the asterisked line was sent to me as dated by the new Johnson Administration. I no longer have the original E-Mail but I believe it contained a short introduction to the effect that “I sent this to your predecessor” followed by the entire text of the original Livingstone letter. I was pleasantly surprised to receive this. It is as I say detailed. It is also very thoughtful. And very wrong.

I had previously sent a copy of same to Brian Paddick who was at that time a Mayoral candidate.

His response dated 24 April 2008 was as follows:

Dear Alexander,

Thank you for getting in touch and sending this to me. I will read this with interest.

Yours sincerely,
Brian Paddick
Liberal Democrat Candidate for Mayor of London

- and that was the last I ever heard from him!


Our Ref: TfL 90041
Date: 10 March 2009
Dear Mr Baron

Thank you for your correspondence addressed to the Mayor on 2 January concerning the funding of public transport and whether fares are necessary. I am replying on his behalf; please accept my apologies for the late response.

In respect of your letter to Mr Livingstone sent in 2000, bus fares play a key role in funding the bus network. The costs of fares and ticketing enforcement are by contrast much smaller.

There are a number of impacts that need to be taken into consideration:

If buses were free at the point of use, this would significantly increase the size and therefore the cost of the network to cope with the extra demand from free travel.

Even with free buses, some form of policing would be required on the network to reduce anti-social behaviour and disorder. Ticketing to a certain degree reduces ASB, in part by providing a staff presence to check tickets. Removal of ticketing would require greater expenditure on security staff, and this is likely to be equivalent to the size of the current revenue protection staff levels and would cost roughly the same. Much of the ticketing equipment used on buses serves the dual purpose of counting passengers as well as validating or allowing purchase of tickets. Counting passengers is vitally important as it gives us journey patterns, long term trends, plus loading levels and so on which are used for planning our services and ensuring that buses are provided in places where demand is highest. Without the on bus ticketing equipment, TfL would have to employ other potentially costly methods of counting passengers such as comprehensive manual surveys or automatic counting equipment; these are less likely to give us the depth of information we currently gain from the ticketing equipment.

Furthermore, in respect of costs of free travel provision for London households, it may also be seen as an unfair increase in respect of those residents who may not want or be able to make use of the services.

In summary, the bus network could be provided for free but at a significant cost to Londoners and to TfL. Fare collection and revenue protection activities also provide services beyond that of merely ensuring that all passengers pay. Some of these services would need to be retained if bus services were free. Free buses alone would have a detrimental effect on Underground services and would encourage the use of buses where walk and cycle trips would be the cheaper, healthier and more environmentally friendly option.

You also comment in your letter on the financial cost to pensioners. As you are no doubt aware London Councils fund the Freedom Pass which means all passengers over 60 or eligible disabled can travel for free as the hours of use have been extended to all day. In addition non-Londoners over 60 can travel free on buses under the new National Concessionary Scheme.

Turning to the tube, London Underground is publicly owned and funded as part of Transport for London.

We do have a relationship with private companies regarding infrastructure and they would be responsible for the maintenance and improvement work across our network.

Systems in other countries are often built, paid for and subsidised by both city and state. Our network was mostly built by a collection of competing Victorian industrialists. It has also suffered from years of under investment and lack of subsidy from local and national government. In the past, this has meant we’ve had to rely on just money from our fares to cover the ever increasing day to day running costs of an ageing system, as well as any improvements for the future. Unfortunately, improvements often weren’t affordable, however much we wanted to do them, and the Tube was left in the state we find now.

Even so, we’re working hard to improve our network now and for the future. As you may know, the way the Tube is financed changed relatively recently. This change, along with increased fare revenue, additional funding secured by the Mayor and Congestion Charge money, is at last delivering much needed investment to our network.

Taking this into account, offering a free transport system would mean that we are unable to make improvements on the Tube. It is for this reason that your proposal would not be feasible.

The Mayor and TfL are investing billions to improve and expand London’s transport network, increasing reliability and capacity for public transport and road users. We are absolutely committed to delivering major projects including the upgrade of the Tube, preparations for 2012 and Crossrail. This of course means some disruption - but it is for significant long-term gain.

The fares package will provide £150m this year, which will sustain the investment needed to continue the vital work on the transport system. As for National Rail, the privatisation of mainline services means the network comes under the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) remit rather than TfL, hence you may wish to contact them directly at: enquiry@atoc.org

I hope that my reply has sufficiently explained our decisions behind the various policies in place.

Yours sincerely

Jasmine Howard
TfL Customer Relations

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