Newslinks | 31st May 2007

The NewsEditor

Open letter to Ken Livingstone on the Freedom Pass - reprinted in full below:

Dear Mr Livingstone

You have recently been telling Londoners that London Councils is putting the Freedom Pass at risk. You know full well that that is not true. There has never been a threat from us to the free travel enjoyed by London’s older and disabled people. The reality is that if there is any danger to the future of the Freedom Pass it is coming from you.

You also go around wrongly creating the impression that the Freedom Pass is one of your gifts to London’s older and disabled residents, when you know it is paid for by London’s boroughs.

London’s councils pay out hundreds of millions of pounds a year to provide the Freedom Pass, the most generous free travel scheme in the country. We are proud to have provided this service for 23 years. In that time it has been extended to cover national rail services and to give disabled people access to free travel 24 hours a day. There is no change in our commitment to providing this highly valued scheme, and nor do we want to water down any of the benefits.

So who are we paying this money to? The answer is you – and your people at Transport for London (TfL). And who decides how much we must pay for these services every year? Again the answer is you and TfL

You see if no agreement is reached by the end of each year on what the boroughs should pay for the Freedom Pass, TfL can, by law, charge whatever they like for running the Freedom Pass, regardless of whether London’s council tax payers get value for money.

So is it surprising that since TfL was set up seven years ago, the cost of providing free travel on the capital’s buses and tubes has risen by 52 per cent? This is the real threat to the Pass.

This is one of your best hidden stealth taxes and to portray yourself as the defender of the Freedom Pass is disingenuous. This is why you want the law to stay as it is, not to protect the Freedom Pass.

Your disregard for council tax payers is clearly shown through the staggering demands TfL is now making to run the Freedom Pass on the North London Railway. TfL is seeking more than £1 million, which is almost double the amount the Association of Train Operating Companies currently charge for providing the same service.

We think the law has to be changed. Nowhere else in the country can a provider of transport schemes hold council tax payers to ransom in this fashion. We are not threatening the Freedom Pass. We are simply asking that if we cannot agree with you each year how much we should pay for it, the government should make the final decision, removing your power to use the Freedom Pass as a secret levy on Londoners.

It would be negligent if we did not seek to protect our council tax payers, many of whom are pensioners or disabled people, against these continually rising costs.

Misleading statements from you about the threat to the Freedom Pass, when it has always been and will continue to be safe in the hands of London’s boroughs, only result in unnecessary anxiety among those who rely on the Pass to live a full life. Frightening London’s vulnerable people to protect your own income is wrong and you should stop right now.

Cllr Daniel Moylan

Chairman, London Councils’ Transport and Environment Committee

[from London Councils]

Station campaigners fight on

"Rail campaigners fighting for weekend services at a busy station are becoming increasingly frustrated with the train operators 'unconvincing excuses', they say.

"The rail users, who have turned to national campaign group, Railfuture, for support, have been pushing for an extended timetable at Sudbury Hill Harrow station, in Greenford Road, for more than five years." [from Wembley & Kingsbury Times]

Commuters' fury at being 'stranded' when the East London Line shuts

"COMMUTERS are furious at having to switch to three bus routes when the East London Line shuts for two years during work to extend it to Dalston and Croydon." [from East London Advertiser]