Does Transport for London finally get it? In an interview with the Guardian, TfL Commissioner Peter Hendy has acknowledged the capital needs affordable fares for low paid Londoners, especially as rising rents force people out to the edges of the city.
"London's poor don't live in Harrow Road, they live in Enfield and Tolworth and if you can't get them to jobs they want, your city's going to be in a bad way: it's not going to progress and contribute to national economic growth," says Hendy. TfL — and Hendy — have been OK with fare rises since Boris Johnson took over the mayoralty, particularly bus fares, which have risen from 90p in 2008 (admittedly a pre-election sop from Ken Livingstone, down from £1) to the current fare of £1.45. The bus network tends to be relied upon by people on lower incomes and Hendy seems to accept that higher fares are unsustainable: "We're going to need more revenue funding. Otherwise we're going to leave people behind. When you start leaving people behind, you start saying to people in London they may not be able to get to work on time and when that happens, you damage the economy quite severely".
Here at Londonist we've been keeping an eye on the slow, creeping push of lower income residents out to the fringes of London, but the breathing space offered by cheaper rent can be quickly eaten up by travelcard costs. TfL is having to deal with cuts in central government subsidy, borne partly of austerity and partly the ideology that the passenger should pay for infrastructure improvements. But with extra building needed to cope with an expected population rise to 10m by 2030 (Crossrail 2, anyone?) Hendy predicts Mumbai-style congestion without more money. And if Londoners can't go on having their wallets squeezed, that money is going to have to come from government.
There's also an interesting bit of terminology in Hendy's interview. After acknowledging that poorer Londoners are increasingly not living in places like Tower Hamlets and Southwark, he says that "a future mayor" will have to "make sure they can afford to get to work". This sounds either like a belief that the issue isn't immediate (we'd argue it is) or an acceptance that Boris Johnson has neither the political will nor inclination to do anything about it.