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Free public transport campaign wins union support


Simon Pirani**


Fare Free London, which campaigns for free public transport, has won the backing of the London Transport Regional Council of the RMT rail union.


The council approved a motion from the RMT branch representing Bakerloo line staff, which said ‘expensive public transport disadvantages poorer people’ and that increasing public transport use is ‘essential for confronting climate crisis’.


The Bakerloo line motion said that, despite measures such as the limited fare freeze and extension of off-peak-only travel to Fridays, London’s public transport remains expensive compared to systems in other big cities.


Since a founding meeting in February, Fare Free London has put out feelers to pro-public-transport campaigns elsewhere, through gatherings organised by the Better Buses Network and the Transport Action Network.


Campaign groups including the Greener Jobs Alliance and Tipping Point have given their backing.


The campaign’s aims, adopted at the founding meeting, state: ‘Free public transport opens the city to all. It is provided as a public service, just like health, education and public parks, and is supported by public investment. It is central to a vision of London as a city where people, their health and the lives they live, come first.’


The group aims to ‘cut across the dangerous populist rhetoric that tackling climate change costs ordinary people money. It shows that the opposite is true: measures to deal with climate change and air pollution can also make life better’.


A Fare Free London campaign briefing reviews the experience of cities including Luxemburg, Tallinn (Estonia), and Montpellier and Dunkerque (France) with zero fares – as well as London’s own ‘fares fair’ policy in the 1980s.


Free transport never fails in social justice terms, those cases show. The impact on the lowest-income households’ well-being is profound.


To contribute to decarbonisation and air pollution reduction, free public transport has to be carefully co-ordinated with other policies – increased public transport usage and active travel has to be allied to policies that actively discourage unnecessary private car use.


Measures reviewed in the campaign brief include road user charging (used in Singapore); workplace parking fees (applied in Nottingham) and uniform inter-borough parking charges. Switching funding to public transport from road-building projects that are incompatible with climate targets require action at national government level.

Research published last year by a team based at Imperial College* – and cited by Fare Free London – showed that City Hall’s current plans for decarbonising transport, which rely heavily on electrification, are doomed to miss targets. Swingeing cuts are needed in the volume of traffic.


As for how free public transport would be paid for, Fare Free London points out, first, that Transport for London should reduce its heavy reliance on fare income, which is far greater than other big city systems. Funding options at London level include land value capture (as pioneered with the Elizabeth line), a payroll tax (used in Paris; requires parliamentary approval) and road user charging. National government could contribute, for example, by increasing fuel duty to restore value lost during the 13 year freeze, and with other wealth taxes.


Fare Free London is on line at farefreelondon.org, and can be contacted at info@farefreelondon.org.


 

* Lisa Winkler et al, ‘The effect of sustainable mobility transition policies on cumulative urban transport emissions and energy demand’, Nature Communications (2023) 14:2357.  

 

Listen to Simon Perani on our latest FTL podcast at https://www.futuretransportlondon.org/podcasts 

 

 

 

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