Freedom Pass: freedom from spin?

In a previous existence as Lib Dem leader on London’s Transport and Environment Committee, one of my happiest jobs was to agree renewing the Freedom Pass scheme each year.

The principle of the Freedom Pass is an excellent one. The over 60s (and some people with disabilities) get free public transport after 9am. It provides independence and mobility to millions of people; combats isolation and poverty among some of the poorest Londoners; encourages off-peak use of public transport; promotes activity and discourages car use. All good stuff.

Contraray to the spin put out by the current Mayor of London, and relayed by commentators like Darcus Howe, the Freedom Pass is organised and funded entirely by the London Boroughs, and not by the Mayor of London. Yes the Freedom Pass is a fantastic idea. But no thanks to Ken.

So his trumpeting of a new 24 hour Freedom Pass an empty promise; like Arsene recommending Beckham for the England squad, it may or may not be a good idea, but it’s not his to deliver.

Londoners are living longer. There are more buses on the road. All good stuff too. But with more journeys taken and rising fares, it means the cost of the Freedom Pass to the boroughs and therefore to Council Tax payers rises each year.

Pensioners should not be second-class citizens. Hospital appointments, catching holiday flights, family crises do not always wait til mid-morning. But there are questions Londoners of all ages should have the chance to ask.

The morning rush hour already sees the network at bursting point; schools and offices may finish at different times but they all start together. Not all over 60s are retired (Ken himself is 62); so you could get the office junior subsidising her bosses’ journey to work. Is it true that London court sittings are designed to allow the judges to arrive on their Freedom Passes? And is it what every pensioner wants? A fifty-something cyclist friend tells me he’d rather have the cash equivalent towards his bike when he turns 60.

Meanwhile, it’s the worst kind of gesture politics to announce an initiative that someone else would have to pay for, then accuse them of blocking it. All boroughs, even Labour ones, must be exasperated by Ken’s electioneering at their, and our, expense.

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