Unfair for rest of country to fund free child travel in London, says minister

A minister has said it is unfair for the rest of the country to pay for free travel for children in London as she defended suspending the perk as part of the Government’s £1.6 billion bailout of Transport for London.

Tory frontbencher Baroness Vere of Norbiton pointed out the major funding package was paid for out of general taxation as she rejected criticism that the temporary measure was outrageous.

Young people could lead the way in walking and using their bikes in the drive to avoid overcrowding on public transport, the transport minister added.

Financial support for TfL was agreed last month to keep Tube and bus services running in the capital until the end of September.

A sharp decline in passenger numbers due to the coronavirus lockdown had led to a slump in TfL’s income.

Conditions attached to the funding included temporarily stopping free travel for under-18s and only allowing people over 60 or with a disability to travel for free outside peak hours.

TfL will also introduce above-inflation fare rises from next year.

Tackling the Government during a virtual House of Lords question time, Liberal Democrat peer Lord Oates said:

Buried in the detail of the Government bailout for Transport for London is a requirement to end free travel for under-18s. Will the Government urgently reconsider this outrageous condition which deliberately targets young people by making them pay the price for the Covid crisis and which will disproportionately impact the poorest families in London?

Lord Oates

Responding, the transport minister said:

That particular requirement is not buried in the detail – it is on the face of the funding agreement. This is an agreement reached between the Government and TfL so both parties agreed to all of the items within that particular document. And it is the case that included in that document we have asked TfL to come up with operational plans such that we can temporarily remove free travel for under-18s. No other part of the country has free travel for under-18s and given this £1.6 billion is being funded from general taxation, it strikes me that it is not fair for the rest of the country to pay for free travel for the under-18s at this time. When we need to get people off public transport and onto their bikes and walking, it strikes me too that the younger people can be at the forefront of that change.

Lady Vere