Last night I had a bit of a debate on Twitter with Labour councillor Hitesh Tailor on the subject of public transport fares although Tailor’s debating technique is limited to spewing out one-sided, unreferenced factoids.
Transport for London’s (TfL’s) fares have been running ahead of inflation ever since it was set up and Boris Johnson has only made small in-roads into TfL’s costs but he has made better progress with this than Ken Livingstone ever did. The Channel 4 programme on the Tube in February was evidence that Johnson has demanded more for less from the Tube system taking out 800 staff. Frankly no-one was ever going to seriously tackle TfL’s costs (and its labour force) in the run up to the Olympics, least of all Livingstone. Johnson has talked about automating tubes in the future – a change that will have to be forced through in the face of extreme opposition from the railway unions that are supporting Livingstone.
Livingstone has been using Fares Fair as a weapon since 1981, 31 years, so he knows it works. We know though that he lied twice before about cutting fares.
MANIFESTO PROMISE: “I will freeze tube fares in real terms for four years” (Ken Livingstone, Ken 4 London, 2000, p. 8).
PROMISE BROKEN: In January 2004 – before the election – cash fares on the Tube rose by up to 25 per cent. Travelcards also increased. Livingstone himself admits in his recent memoirs: ‘I decided to increase the fares before the  election’ (TfL, Board Papers: Agenda Item 5, 29 October 2003; Ken Livingstone, You can’t say that, October 2011).
MANIFESTO PROMISE: “I will freeze bus fares for four years” (Ken Livingstone, Ken 4 London, 2000, p. 8).
PROMISE BROKEN: In January 2004, the single bus fare outside central London was increased from 70p to £1 a rise of 43 per cent. The weekly bus pass for those travelling outside central London rose from £7.50 to £9.50, an increase of 26.6 per cent. For those travelling in central London it rose by 11.7 per cent, from £8.50 to £9.50 (TfL Press Release, New Year, New Fares, 2 January 2004).
Livingstone is not the right person to tackle the unions and work practices on the Tube which is the only long term way of lowering fares. If Johnson wants to be seen as a credible national politician in the future he needs to demonstrate that he can reform public transport in London and stop the fares spiral. Livingstone hasn’t a chance. Johnson just might.