Huge rise in Tube fares to plug deficit

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The Independent Online

Tube fares in central London are to rise by up to 25 per cent and bus journeys in the districts will cost 43 per cent more in the biggest increases for 20 years.

London Underground journeys will be hit the hardest, with single-fare Tube tickets in Zone 1 rising from £1.60 to £2, while a weekly Zone 1 travelcard will increase from £16.15 to £18.15.

Bus journeys in outer London will also rise, from 70p to £1, although children under the age of 11 will be able to travel free on all buses under the reforms, unveiled yesterday by Ken Livingstone, the London Mayor.

The fare changes, to be implemented from 4 January 2004, are intended to raise an additional £42m from the Tube and £39m from the buses, Mr Livingstone says.

The extra funds will help to plug a growing deficit in Transport for London's budget, which was predicted to have reached £560m by 2007.

Mr Livingstone described the reforms as "the most extensive package of changes to London transport fares since the Fares Fair policy 20 years ago" but blamed the Government's failure to invest more in the Underground on the fact that the system did not provide value for money.

He said: "If I had complete freedom over my finances I would be looking at the sort of fares reductions of about a third on the Underground. But unless the Government gives me that money I cannot do it.It is the most expensive system in the Western world and I suspect the service is well below most of our rivals."

The announcement coincided with the introduction of the Oyster card, a new version of the existing travelcard, which marks a move towards a cashless transport system.

Passengers are able to pass the smartcard, which can be charged up like a mobile phone card, over a yellow detector while passing through Tube barriers or boarding buses. Tube travellers who use the Oyster card will be able to continue paying 2003 prices next year when the price rises are implemented.

Lynne Featherstone, chairman of the London Assembly's transport committee, said: "The huge hike in cash fares on the Tube is way beyond encouraging pre-payment on a service which is still failing the public."