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Government must restore free travel for U18s and elderly Londoners

The Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs has urged the Government to restore free travel for under-18s in London, and to remove the suspension of free travel at peak times for Older Person’s Freedom Pass and 60-plus Oyster card holders. The suspension of free travel for the over-60s took effect last week, starting on Monday 15 June.

Removing these free travel arrangements was one of the Government’s conditions of the Transport for London (TfL) bailout, which included £1.6bn of emergency financing to prevent TfL’s collapse. The transport network saw income from fares fall significantly once the lockdown was introduced, leaving their finances in a desperate situation.

Mayor Biggs warns that the Government’s decision to scrap free travel will hit some of the poorest in Tower Hamlets right when they need extra support, particularly as schools and workplaces slowly begin to reopen and with so many residents reliant on public transport.

The Mayor of London has also warned that scrapping free travel for young people will load additional costs on to local councils, as an estimated 30 per cent of children who travel to school by bus are legally entitled to free travel.

Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs said: “Given the pandemic it’s absolutely right that we ask people to avoid travelling on public transport if they can, but for many this simply isn’t possible particularly as schools and workplaces begin to reopen across the capital.

“Punishing people with low or no incomes by scrapping free travel isn’t the right way to go about it, and it will hurt some of the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest right at a time when finances are being stretched more than ever.

“The Government must reverse its decision to scrap free travel for under-18s and the over-60s, and I hope they will work with TfL and the Mayor of London to reach an agreement.”

Cllr Dan Tomlinson, Cabinet Member for Environment and Public Realm (job share), said: “Removing free travel will have a huge impact on many people across Tower Hamlets, particularly as so many on lower incomes rely public transport day in, day out. We need to ensure that people can get to work and school safely, but it’s deeply unfair to try and achieve this by punishing people who have no option but to use public transport.”

Local London Assembly Member, Unmesh Desai AM, said: “It is inexcusable that the Government are using their bailout of TfL, made necessary by the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak, to take away the lifeline of free travel for older Londoners.

“It is of course very important that only those that absolutely need to travel should do so at the moment. However, we shouldn’t forget that many over the age of sixty, who are key workers or unable to work from home, will still need to use public transport at peak times.

“Sadly, there are hundreds of thousands of pensioners living in poverty in our capital and this ill-thought out decision by the Government will needlessly add to their financial burden. I am also concerned that it threatens the long term viability of the 60-plus card.

“I have written to local organisations representing older people to outline the implications of these changes and provide my reassurances that I will continue to campaign against them”.