This week, London Mayor Boris Johnson vowed to bring back free travel for everyone over the age of 60. This came as the mayoral candidates pitched their campaigns for the vital 'grey vote'. He and Ken Livingstone went head-to-head for the first time in the election campaign, appearing before 200 pensioners at a debate organised by Age UK London, a charity.
At the debate, Johnson said that all Londoners over the age of 60 will be able to travel on the capital's transport network for free. The age for concessionary travel was linked to the state pension age for women under the last Labour government, which has meant a steady rise in the age of Londoners who get a Freedom Pass. Under the current rules, the age is due to rise to a maximum 66, but some Londoners are getting the pass at age 61 right now.
Johnson said that Londoners over the age of 60 will get the 24-hour Freedom Pass, and he's a man who keeps his vows. He's aware that his promise of free travel has deteriorated after a decision from Livingstone's Labour Party to increase the qualifying age, so he's renewing his pledge to the elderly that they will receive free travel from the age of 60.
Sources close with Johnson say that over 400,000 people in London could benefit from the change. The pass is mostly paid for by the capital's 33 borough councils, but it's understood the Mayor will make up the shortfall. This could be between £8 million and £10 million during the first year.
As for Livingstone, he has promised to make the Cycle Hire Scheme free for pensioners in London under the Freedom Pass. This wouldn't cost the boroughs, which fund and manage the pass scheme, any extra. He claims the plan would cost less than £250,000 per year.
According to the London Assembly, Livingstone said that 68% of the people who use the Cycle Hire Scheme are between the ages of 25 and 44, and 75% of these are male. Four of five users are white, while 60% have a more than £50,000 a year household income. Age shouldn't be an obstacle for people to enjoy the programme, he said, and he wants to open the scheme up to everyone.
Livingstone also noted that the free membership for older people won't have to be facilitated with an investment in extra bikes. This is because the scheme isn't at capacity yet and more users are saying they won't renew their memberships. The scheme is good in principle, but a part-time mayor meant that details were done. He claims that Johnson failed to think through how to make the Cycle Hire Scheme work well for the most people, and many Londoners are missing out when they could and should be using it.
Aside from that, Livingstone also vowed to help Londoners reduce their energy bills by £150 a year. London has lost out on over £400 million in funding for home energy efficiency programmes over recent years, and he wants to ensure the capital gets a fair share of the £1.3 billion a year that energy firms are required to spend on home insulation starting next year. He also wants older people's homes to be prioritised for insulation and to establish the first London Energy Purchasing Co-operative. He says doing this will reduce the price Londoners pay for gas and electricity by buying energy on the wholesale markets, freeing the city from major suppliers who have increased prices.