London Councils and Transport for London say the Government’s plan to suspend free youth travel on TfL services after the October half-term break cannot be delivered.
The Government inserted the temporary suspension of free travel for under-18s as a last-minute condition to the Covid-19 financial rescue package for Transport for London announced in May (LTT 12 Jun). The suspension was presented as a way of easing capacity pressures on public transport while Covid-19 social distancing restrictions remain in place. Some in Government are, however, believed to want the free travel policy scrapped permanently (LTT 24 Jul).
The Government initially wanted the suspension introduced in time for the start of the new school term this month. This proved impractical and it has subsequently targeted the return of schools after next month’s half-term break.
TfL and London Councils both say this is also impractical. Spencer Palmer, London Councils’ director of transport and mobility, told councillors last week: “There is still a great deal of ambiguity about what exactly is proposed and how it could be implemented quickly enough to fulfil the declared purpose of the proposals, which is to manage demand and aid social distancing on London buses after this month’s return to school.
“The latest position from TfL is that the earliest possible date they could physically implement the necessary fares and Oyster card changes for 11-15-year-olds is 4 January 2021 and 1 February 2021 for 16-17-year-olds. They have explained this to Government and are awaiting a response.”
Palmer said the Government had accepted London Councils’ view that boroughs would have to consult on changes to their school travel policies before the suspension is implemented.
But he said: “It is not possible to change school travel policies and implement the removal of free travel for any under 18s in time for the school return following the October half-term. In fact, we believe it is not possible for local authorities to amend their home-to-school transport policies in the middle of an academic year.”
Palmer said the Government had confirmed that TfL would continue to fund free home-to-school transport for all pupils who have a statutory entitlement. The Government had also indicated “that they do not intend any new burdens to be imposed on boroughs”.
London Councils estimates that the new policy will present boroughs with annual costs of £27m and a cost to parents of £83m.
A petition on the Downing Street website calling on the Government to scrap the removal of free transport for under-18s had amassed more than 168,000 signatures this week.
Palmer said the Government had still not published an equalities impact assessment for the proposal. “We have been told this is still being worked on by the DfT.”
A TfL spokesman told LTT this week: “As part of our funding agreement with Government, we were asked to bring forward proposals to temporarily suspend free travel for under-18s. We are discussing how the Government’s requirement is to be implemented with the Department for Transport, Department for Education and London Councils.”
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