By Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporter
The leader of Greenwich council has appealed to Boris Johnson to scrap controversial moves to axe free travel for children on London public transport, saying it will be a “disaster” for families and young people.
Greenwich Labour leader Danny Thorpe also leapt to the defence of Sadiq Khan for signing off on Transport for London’s (TfL) £1.6 billion Government bailout, saying the Mayor “had no choice but to accept it to keep the Tubes and buses running”.
The deal between the Government and TfL will see a series of temporary measures – including stopping free travel for children and reducing free travel for the over-60s – introduced after TfL’s income from passengers was crippled due to the coronavirus lockdown.
However, the leader of Greenwich council, where 40 per cent of children already live in poverty, said the changes would have a “huge impact” on residents in the borough.
The plight moved Cllr Thorpe to start an online petition lobbying the Prime Minister to restore funding to allow free travel for children.
He said: “This will be a disaster for many of our families who are really struggling, and will be moving forward in such awful conditions.
“Forty per cent of Greenwich children are already living in poverty. This will be one extra burden that families could do without.
“So we’re calling on the Prime Minister to immediately reinstate the funding our children, young people and families need to travel in our borough.”
The petition had collected almost 3,000 signatures by Monday afternoon.
The Greenwich Labour leader said the move would make London’s poorest residents “pay the price” of the pandemic.
He said: “Londoners have done the right thing during the Covid crisis – stayed home and off public transport.
“But the Tories have used that as an excuse to raise fares, suspend the freedom pass at peak times and burden TfL with debt.
“We now know this will also have a huge impact on children, young people and families across Greenwich.
“The suspension of free travel for under 18s will cause a huge financial burden, and potentially mean our most vulnerable children and young people can no longer afford to get to school when they reopen.”
Cllr Thorpe said Mr Khan was “being clear and honest with Londoners” – adding “this is not the deal he wanted”.
He said in recent years London has been the only major city in western Europe that hasn’t received direct Government funding to run day-to-day transport services.
He said TfL had “prudently” gathered £2.1b in reserves going into the pandemic which it has since burnt through after fare income fell by 90 per cent.
In response Greenwich Conservative Deputy Leader and candidate for the London Assembly, Cllr Charlie Davis, accused Mr Khan and his supporters of “creating a false narrative” surrounding the Government bailout of TfL.
He said: “The Mayor had already indicated in the TfL Business Plan published in December 2019 that fares would rise by the amount agreed in the bail out.
“While no-one denies the impact of Covid on TfL’s finances, this has been exacerbated by the Mayor’s financial mismanagement.
“The failures of the last four years mean Crossrail delays have resulted in £1.35bn of lost fares, and an extra cost of £3.65bn shared between TfL and the GLA.
“The Mayor’s mismanagement has seen the purchase of 27 additional trains for the already overcrowded Jubilee and Northern lines cancelled.
“Difficult times require tough choices and decisions, and the terms of the bailout already indicate that any suspension of concessionary fares is only a temporary measure.”
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