Ken Livingstone has renewed his pledge to slash public transport fares for Londoners should he be elected in May as many commuters paid higher prices for the first time this year.
A protest against the six per cent average rise in rail fares was held at St Pancras station. Passengers travelling through the busy London station were greeted by a New Orleans-style jazz band dressed as the Fat Controller from Thomas the Tank Engine. Demonstrators from rail union TSSA also held placards depicting prime minister David Cameron as the character.
London Underground and bus fares have gone up by an average of 5.6 per cent. The increase is lower than initially announced because the government injected £136m to soften the blow for commuters.
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Labour mayoral candidate Livingstone sees public transport fares as a key weapon in the battle for City Hall with current mayor Boris Johnson. Livingstone claims his “Fare Deal” package would scrap Johnson’s increases for 2012 and save the average commuter £1,000 over the next four years.
Livingstone said: “Before millions of Londoners even arrive at work this morning they will have felt the pain of a fourth year of above inflation bus, tube and train fare hikes under Boris Johnson.
“This is the wrong fare rise at the wrong time, taking money out of people’s pockets when the London economy is struggling and when people are very hard pressed.
“The impact applies across London and across ages and income brackets. Yet every year the mayor rakes in more income from fares than his budgets and business plans says he will. It’s time for change.
“Exactly four months today Londoners will face a very clear choice – a Labour mayor who will cut the fares, or a Tory mayor who raises fares, forcing many to spend a quarter of their wages merely getting to and from work.”
Labour activists have been handing out some 500,000 leaflets across more than 300 Tube, train, tram and bus stations as many commuters returned to work for the first time after Christmas. About 100,000 Londoners will receive emails and text messages from Livingstone’s campaign team.
However, Johnson insists the fare rises are necessary to ensure improvements to the capital’s transport network continue, while Transport for London said the price hikes would protect transport upgrades and frontline services.
Livingstone served as mayor of London between 2000 and 2008, but he has faced criticism for breaking fare pledges he made during previous election campaigns while he was in City Hall. He has also admitted he broke promises not to increase fares in his recently published memoirs.