The Mayoral election is 11 months away, yet it feels like we've gone back to 2012 because a lot of the talk at the moment is about fares.
One of Labour's frontrunners, Sadiq Khan, has announced that if he wins he'll freeze fares on the tube, DLR, Overground and cycle hire for four years. Stephen Greenhalgh, running for the Tory nomination, has gone further and said he'd cut fares by 3% each year for his term. Yet for the last seven years, Transport for London — and Boris Johnson — has said cutting or freezing fares would prevent vital investment. So what gives?
It's at this point that we look to the acknowledged transport expert in the race: Christian Wolmar, bidding for the Labour nod. Wolmar would freeze fares for the first year but focus on making fares fairer and more flexible — for example, bringing back the zones 2-6 travelcard. If Christian Wolmar isn't advocating a full-on fares freeze or cut, we're inclined to believe it's not practical and that the other candidates are going for the populist vote.
Khan would disagree, saying a fares freeze can be achieved using current TfL funds (we assume these are the same funds that TfL repeatedly denies exist), efficiency savings and slashing the use of consultants. Efficiency savings and cutting non-operating costs also appear in Greenhalgh's thinking, as well as 'reviewing TfL's assets', which we take to mean selling off land and buildings.
Trouble is, TfL is already in the middle of a vast efficiency drive forced on it by cuts in its grant from central government. We're sceptical that there are further efficiencies left to find — and certainly not ones that wouldn't provoke waves of strikes.