Today should be the day that opponents of Boris Johnson delivered some telling blows on the mayor. London bus fares shoot up by 20% today, the biggest increase in years and undermining the huge growth in bus usage across the capital. The rise will be felt particularly harshly among London’s less well-off, and in areas where the Tube – which, on the whole, isn’t experiencing a huge rise – does not extend to. That’ll be south-east London then. It’s almost as if the increase has been targeted at the hordes who take the 53 into town because it’s cheaper than the alternatives.
But while some of the extra burden may be necessary, it is how Boris has chosen to share the burden that is most revealing.
Boris will protect those Londoners most able to pay by freezing the price of almost all [Travelcard] season tickets for the year. Meanwhile, he will raise single bus fares by a third from the level he inherited. Overall, bus users will be hit hardest by the rises.
As a bold act of redistribution, it is hard to beat, with Boris asking those least able to pay to subsidise those most able to pay.
My annual travelcard from my full-time work days ran out three weeks ago, and since then I’ve been marvelling at just how good the Oyster system is (I’m proud to say I reached my first fare cap the Tuesday before Christmas) and getting used to the idea of paying as I travel for the first time in over a decade. I even toyed on New Year’s Day with buying a bus pass to try to beat the rise – an annual pass has jumped from £552 to £664 – but with Oyster pay-as-you-go being extended to the trains today, my hungover head couldn’t cope with the sums.
But on the whole, I think I’ll be taking the bus less. I’m even gently toying with the idea of buying a bike, although living on a steep hill doesn’t make this a particularly attractive option. I have a feeling I won’t be the only one giving the bus a miss.
So where are Boris’s political opponents, then? Where’s the billboards with Boris on the side of a 20p piece and some witty slogan? Where’s the hard-hitting attack on this fool who’s making us pay twenty pence per ride towards the cost of his stupid vanity bus? Er…
Obviously this partly relies on the BBC’s interpretation of what Val Shawcross said, and at least she stepped up to the mark and said something. But the This Is Local London version of the story‘s much the same, which suggests they’re from the same press release. Why is she allowing reporters to get away with trying to claim that bus fares are only going up by 12.7%? A rise of 20p on a £1 fare is 20%! Why even mention the small rises on the Tube? Boris’s opponents should be focusing on 20p.
But instead it gets bogged down in such-and-such percentage and guff about Tubes, when the clear fact is that bus users are paying the price so that better-off Tube users, who are more likely to vote Tory, don’t have to share the pain. But this isn’t coming across. Even Ken Livingstone gets a bit bogged down in percentages in this piece for MayorWatch – but the message should be simple. That 20p is a tax on you to pay for Boris’s stupid vanity bus. Or to make up for axeing the western congestion charge.
Criticism from blogs seem to hit the mark more frequently than that from Boris’s real opponents. Liberal Conspiracy‘s Sunny Hundal hit the nail on the head which Val Shawcross, or any number of London politicians, failed to do. “If a policy hits London’s poor: implement it. If it hits the richest, argue against it.”
And I’m also amazed Boris got away with his “everything’s working fine chaps, what what?” approach after the snowfall on the Monday before Christmas halted bus services around the capital and reduced mainline train services. Admittedly, the latter aren’t part of his remit, but where was the mayoral slap on the wrist for Southeastern running a Saturday service (but charging Tuesday prices) the morning after the deluge?
It’s baffling, and frustrating. London’s weak media doesn’t really help much; if this was 2007 and I was a ranting Tory instead of a grumpy Green I’d probably be wondering why nobody was criticising Ken Livingstone properly. Dave Cole looked at this aspect a few months back.
With this lack of scrutiny and effective criticism, it’s actually a rather good time to be mayor. If only Boris would do something more meaningful with the job than build a vanity bus…