Free public transport in London
Meeting – Saturday 10 February, 10.30am-1.0pm
Waterloo Action Centre, 14 Baylis Road, London SE1 7AA
10.00 Welcome, tea and coffee
10.35 First session: Proposed aims of campaign, and name.
(i) The proposed aims of the campaign are attached. We will introduce these.
Participants are invited to agree, disagree, amend and improve – and hopefully
approve – these aims.
(ii) Name for new organisation. In our organising group, the following suggestions
have come up. Other suggestions are welcome.
Free Public Transport London
Free Oyster Card in London
Zero Fares London
11.45 Second session: Getting organised.
Facilitator: Simon Pirani
We will relate our experience of organising in protest at the Silvertown Tunnel project, and suggest ways forward for the new campaign.
The main practical point will be to set up an organising group, to coordinate between
groups and individuals who support our aims.
Such an organising group could include volunteers to: liaise with different organisations; set up a web site and/or do social media; manage contact lists; and organise public events.
One possible occasion to draw attention to the campaign is the plenary meeting of the London Assembly on Thursday 7 March (10.0am, City Hall).
12.45 Close of meeting
A message from the Stop the Silvertown Tunnel coalition:
We have called this meeting to see if there is sufficient interest to start a new campaign, for
free public transport in London. Our coalition supports this idea, but we do not have the
capacity to do it on our own. So today’s meeting is a practical one: to agree on the main
direction of such a campaign, and set up a new organisational structure to take it forward.
Proposed aims of the campaign
We have discussed these proposed aims in the Stop the Silvertown Tunnel coalition organising group. We invite all at the meeting on 10 February to discuss, amend and approve them.
Free public transport in London
We call on the Mayor and the Greater London Authority (GLA) to provide free public transport in London. As a first step, we call on them to research ways to implement it, and make recommendations.
We call on national government to support free public transport in London and elsewhere. As a first step, we call for local government finance rules to be changed, to allow money to be raised for this purpose.
Free public transport supports households struggling with the cost of living crisis, and can help tackle climate change globally and air pollution locally. It means providing transport as a service, just like health, education and public parks.
Free public transport is a social justice measure. It opens the city to all. It supports the lowest-income households, who are the least likely to have a car.
Introducing free public transport is the sort of drastic, demonstrative action needed on climate. As part of an integrated transport policy (see “How is it done?”, below), it can help rapidly to cut traffic volume, and so cut greenhouse gas emissions.
London is falling behind its own weak climate targets, and even further behind targets worked out by climate scientists. The transport sector has made the least progress in cutting fossil fuel use over the last twenty years. Free public transport could start to reverse this dangerous trend.
Cutting road traffic is also the best way to tackle air pollution that kills thousands of Londoners each year.
Free public transport cuts across the dangerous populist rhetoric that tackling climate change costs ordinary people money. It shows that the opposite is true: measures to deal with climate change and air pollution can also make life better in the short term.
How is it done?
Transport for London (TfL) already provides free transport for over-60s, under-10s and many teenagers, and other discounts. Extending these schemes, using the Oyster card, would present few practical problems.
To reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, free public transport will be most effective if implemented as part of an integrated approach that also includes:
• Providing transport as a public service, not a commodity sold for profit; expanding services, starting by reversing bus service cuts; and investing to support active travel.
• Making public transport Londoners’ first choice for getting around: making it enjoyable.
• Supporting a stable workforce with fair pay and conditions, and union organisation. This is the key to a good service. The unions showed this recently, by their success in ditching plans to close rail ticket offices.
• Reversing decades of national and local government support and subsidies for motor traffic, at the public’s expense. This could include smart road charging (currently under discussion at the GLA); smart emissions-based parking charges; repurposing the Silvertown Tunnel for non-motor traffic; and expansion of school streets and other measures to reclaim street space for communities.
• Linking free public transport to cheap or free train travel in the south east, provided by publicly owned companies.
London could be the first big city in the world to offer free public transport. It could build on a wealth of experience of free public transport in smaller cities e.g. Luxemburg, Tallinn (Estonia), and Montpellier and Dunkerque (France).
How would it be paid for?
Revenue from fares comprises about half of TfL’s income – a much higher share than in most of the world’s big-city transport systems. TfL also receives revenue from business rates retention, other operating income e.g. the congestion charge, and central government grants.
TfL policy is to reduce the share of revenue from fares. We agree with this, but call for a much more ambitious reduction, with a target close to zero.
As a community-based campaign we do not prescribe how free public transport could be funded. But there is a wide range of options. Alternative sources of income could include:
• Revenue raised by local government, e.g. a payroll tax (used in Paris), land value capture (e.g. the Community Infrastructure Levy used to fund the Elizabeth Line); other revenue raised from commercial and luxury property; and road use charging (see above).
• Revenue raised by central government, e.g. increased fuel duty to restore value lost during the 13-year freeze; a moratorium on road building, following the Welsh government’s example, with funds diverted to public transport; and wealth taxes and measures against
corporate tax evasion.
GLA policy has been to reduce reliance on central government funding. This could be reviewed, given the possible upcoming change of government.
London and national policy
We favour free public transport nationally, and will work together with all to achieve it. We need to reverse national government policy, which has for years undermined public transport and active travel, and supported ever-greater road traffic with subsidies.
Conservative politicians try to divide voters by claiming that London has an outsize share of national resources. They have used negotiations with the Mayor’s office to try to force a heavier burden on passengers (with higher fares) and staff (by constraining pay increases and undermining pension conditions). We reject this divisive politics.
Free public transport in London will require changes in national government policy, as well as at the GLA, and we call on the Mayor to join us in achieving this.
• Comments and feedback welcome, to email@example.com