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Sadiq Khan under pressure over pre-9am travel for older Londoners

Sadiq Khan came under pressure on Monday over his failure to pledge the return of free morning rush hour Tube and bus travel for older Londoners.

The Labour mayor’s Tory and Green opponents have both said they would reinstate the perk if elected, but Mr Khan argues it is not financially viable.

Free pre-9am weekday travel for 60+ Oyster or Freedom Pass holders was first axed in June 2020, primarily to ensure public transport was kept empty for key workers during the pandemic.

But Mr Khan decided to make the change permanent after being told by Transport for London (TfL) that it could generate an additional £40m a year in fares.

The perk has however temporarily returned on Friday mornings as part of the mayor’s off-peak Friday fares trial, which is running for 12 weeks.

The 60+ Oyster is funded by TfL and gives London residents aged over 60 free travel on TfL services.

It is separate to the Older Persons Freedom Pass, which is funded by the capital’s 33 councils and gives free travel to London residents over the State pension age of 66.

The issue was high on the agenda at the first hustings of the London mayoral election, organised by Age UK London and hosted in Canary Wharf.

The event was meant to enable older Londoners to put their questions to the main party candidates, but the only one to attend was the Green Party’s Zoë Garbett.

Mr Khan sent his deputy mayor Joanne McCartney as a substitute, with Conservative candidate Susan Hall sending assembly candidate Nick McLean in her place, and Liberal Democrat candidate Rob Blackie sending assembly member Hina Bokhari. Reform UK candidate Howard Cox, and other candidates, were not invited.

Ms Hall said last week that the removal of free pre-9am travel has been a “cruel penalty” which “unfairly hits older Londoners who need to travel to early morning appointments”.

Referring to negotiations over TfL funding between the mayor and ministers, Ms McCartney said: “The Government tried to take away the 60+ Oyster altogether, and it was only because Sadiq fought that and stepped in, that that is still being retained.

“We would love to reinstate the [free] travel before 9am, but we just aren’t in a position to do so yet. The Government is not giving TfL at the moment more than a one-year funding deal, so they’re having to go, every year, back to Government [for funding].”

Ms McCartney added: “I can’t remember her [Ms Hall] ever standing up to her own Government when they were threatening to take it away.”

The Tory candidate reportedly plans to fund the pledge through savings in the City Hall and TfL budgets, including reductions in staff with salaries of more than £100,000 a year.

Ms Garbett said she didn’t believe older Londoners should have to “bear the brunt” of money lost during the pandemic, and that she would reinstate the perk.

“We think this is about priorities, and we think this is the right one,” she said.

The Lib Dems’ Mr Blackie told the Standard that reinstating the benefit was something his party “would like to do… subject to financial feasibility”.

He added: “Sadiq Khan has left TfL's finances in a mess, which inevitably means cuts to Tube maintenance, and more delays. So we will fix that first.”

Other issues discussed at Age UK’s hustings were the mayor’s expansion of the Ultra low emission zone, and concerns over crime.

There was also anger over dockless hire bikes, with concerns over irresponsible parking and riding on pavements.