‘Hopefully you are going to Parliament so I will not have to put up with your questions much longer.’
Thus spoke Ken at last Mayor’s Question Time. The Mayor clearly no longer loves me!
Ken’s ‘dear john’ came at Mayor’s Question Time when I was pushing him intensively on the 152 million fares dodged since he took office. That’s 132,000 per day. True to form, whenever the questioning going gets rough – Ken likes to change the subject.
However, I wasn’t in the mood for jollity. £40 million was lost this year on the buses and £43 million on the tube. Given Ken is breaking his promises not to raise fares above inflation and is going to break his promises in each of the next three years as well as this one – the least he can do is make more of an effort to crack down on those who dodge fares.
In recent weeks I have become an expert on fare dodging – not through practising the dark art – but by being forced to pursue a Mayor who does not appear to care half as much about catching fare dodgers as raising fares for those who are honest and pay them.
Currently, Revenue Inspectors are catching only about one in seven hundred dodgers. I doubt whether Ken would be equally sanguine if only one out of every seven hundred evaders of the Congestion Charge were caught and prosecuted.
I suggested to him that he ought to double the £10 penalty currently levied on fare dodgers – a charge so derisory that it apparently isn’t worth the time and effort to pursue. The Mayor should put fare dodging on a par with transgressing into a bus lane, evading the Congestion Charge or running over on a meter – and double the penalty charge for dodging to £20 which if not paid promptly, should double and then double again – like all the other charges now levied on Londoners. Sauce for the goose etc.
There’s a particular problem with the ‘bendy buses’ and the number of doors they have – which are not all by the driver. Some people seem to feel no need to buy a ticket as they can board the bus away from the driver (and there are no conductors). Already radio jocks have christened these huge new vehicles the ‘free’ bus. But where’s the action from the Mayor? Ken needs to implement an intense and high profile anti-fare dodging campaign targeted on people who seem to think they really are ‘free’ buses.
Ken was annoyed with the term ‘free bus’ – but action would be even better.
One aspect of the issue he wouldn’t or couldn’t answer is how the targets for the Revenue Protection Inspectors really work. Now, I’ve been told that they are given a target number of tickets to check (rather than evaders to catch). This means there’s actually an incentive on them not to catch any evaders – as finding an evader slows them down as they have to deal with it.
Another one is – what’s been the impact on ticket revenue where Routemasters have been replaced by bendy buses?
Both fair questions in my book – and ones a London Mayor who was really on top of the job would be able to handle. But he didn’t. I’ve more hope for the meeting I have scheduled with the Director of Surface Transport at Transport for London next week. I’ll get a chance to follow up on these then.
So Mayor Ken may very well wish me gone to another place – but right now – I just want answers!