Low paid Londoners bashed by bus fair rise
Low paid workers who rely on public transport to get to work have been hit especially hard by the higher fares on London’s buses and tubes that came into effect at the start of the New Year.
London’s bus and tube fares have just gone up by an average of 12.7% and 3.9% respectively. Yet among those who use them for getting to work, the bus is much more likely to be used by low paid workers than others who are paid more. According to official figures, half of Londoners who travel to work by bus earn £10 an hour or less. By contrast, only a quarter of those who do so by tube (and just a sixth of those going by train) earn this little.
As well as being more likely to be low paid, those using the bus for work are more likely to be women than men and more likely to be going to part-time rather than full-time jobs.
As a result, increases in bus fares fall much more upon the shoulders of low paid workers than do increases in tube (or rail) fares. This year’s threefold difference in the increase as between the two forms of transport is therefore profoundly to the disadvantage of low paid Londoners.
Londoners travelling to work by public transport by hourly rate of pay (Source: Labour Force Survey, Q4 08 to Q3 09)
The overall scale of the fares increase has of course been criticised. Faced with the need to find more money, it is not so surprising that a Conservative Mayor should plump for putting up fares; a Labour Mayor would, presumably, have looked to get more money from council tax instead. When more money has to be found for London’s transport, political disagreement along these lines is almost inevitable.
But the big increase in bus fares over and above tube fares was not inevitable. Rather, it reflects a choice that the Mayor has made, signalled in Transport for London’s 2009 business plan, to bring about a systematic shift in subsidy from buses to tubes. Over the period up to 2017/18, this shift will total £1.5bn.
This is a choice that the Mayor was free not to make. Its economic wisdom remains unclear to us. In terms of its social impact, however, it is clearly unjust. It is no less an act of redistribution, from poorer workers to richer ones – and indeed from women to men – than anything that a Chancellor of the Exchequer might do.