The concession is under threat from a deal agreed between the Labour Mayor of London and the Conservative Government to bail out Transport for London (TfL).
TfL’s income has dramatically fallen following the COVID pandemic and subsequent collapse of fare-paying passengers in London.
In Sutton alone, before lockdown, over 15,000 young people aged 11-18 were using the buses every day to get to school. The deal between the Mayor and the Government will see most of those young people lose their free travel benefit.
This could result in local authorities spending hundreds of thousands of pounds in administering and designing a new system for those who are still eligible for the concession.
Transport minister Baroness Vere of Norbiton has written to TfL to confirm that the free travel benefit will be suspended after October half-term, which runs 24th-28th October. Deputy Chair of London’s Transport Committee, Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon, called the plan “misguided, complex and simply wrong”.
Wallington Lib Dem councillor Mo Saqib said:
“It is a disgrace that Conservative politicians have so far stayed silent on the important issue of free travel for young people in Sutton. Just yesterday, our Tory London Assembly member could not bring himself to support young people in Sutton by voting for a motion calling for the benefit to be restored. Neither of Sutton's two Tory MPs have signed an Early Day Motion in Parliament against this unfair cut, which speaks volumes about their interest in young people in our borough.
“Free travel is absolutely vital to help our young people get to school and college, and this concession has been essential for reducing inequalities in London. We risk making poor families even poorer by implementing this ill-thought out Tory policy.
“Before the pandemic, over 15,000 children and young people across Sutton were using the buses every single day to get to school. Research shows the policy has been cost effective, promoted social inclusion and reduced road collisions. That’s why I’m challenging our local Conservative politicians to sign the petition against cutting free travel for Sutton’s children- because our young people and their families deserve to be supported during this difficult time, not let down by short-sighted Conservative politicians and their poorly designed schemes”.