Travelcard 'to vanish with bus deregulation': Leaked report sets scenario for public transport users in London

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The Independent Online
THE travelcard used by passengers on public transport in London is unlikely to survive after rail privatisation and bus deregulation despite ministerial promises to the contrary, according to a leaked report.

The report, prepared by a committee set up by John MacGregor, the Secretary of State for Transport, says 'the most likely scenario . . . is that the existing Travelcard will disappear and it will be some years before operators are prepared to agree amongst themselves that some kind of successor is needed' and it warns 'this is not an attractive scenario from the point of view of government or London's public transport users'.

Travelcard is a single ticket which can be used for rail, Tube and bus, and allows a significant discount for people using different modes of travel or making several journeys. Many commuters have a travelcard add-on included in their season ticket which allows them free travel within certain zones.

The report says travelcards have proved very popular, increased revenue, reduced fraud, allowed the widespread introduction of one-person operated buses and concludes 'passengers appear very satisfied with the present arrangements'.

The committee, whose members include representatives from London Transport, Network SouthEast, the Department of Transport and the Treasury, argue that the travelcard will disappear with bus deregulation in the capital - expected in 1995 - because operators would not find it worthwhile to remain in the system. Meanwhile, private rail franchisees, also expected to start operating in 1995, may also withdraw because of the uncertainty of obtaining the right amount of revenue from the system.

The implication is that government intervention is necessary. Steven Norris, the Minister for Transport in London, told a Commons select committee last month that he wanted 'to make sure that a travelcard system, if we can use that generic term, is maintained'. However, ministers repeatedly refused to insert a clause into the Bill privatisating BR to guarantee the future of the London Travelcard, even though concessions were made on railcards for BR pensioners and young people.

Mr Norris has also expressed hopes that 'smart card' technology would enable the development of new types of inter-modal ticket. But the report warns that it would be impossible to introduce the technology within the next two years.

Brian Wilson, Labour's transport spokesman, said: 'Ministers have tried to put up a smokescreen suggesting that the travelcard will survive, while guaranteeing nothing. The message of the document is that it won't survive.'

The loss of the travelcard would have a widespread impact on London's transport system, leading to greater car use and increased congestion, especially if users of one-person operated buses, now 92 per cent of London's buses, had to queue to pay fares.

Apart from 'do nothing', the report considers three possible options: increasing the price of the travelcard because operators, in particular London Buses, feel it is underpriced and an extra pounds 85- pounds 90m is needed; introducing a Tube-only season ticket; and allowing British Rail season ticketholders to buy a 'point-to- point' add on to permit them to use London Transport within the capital.

Chris Church, director of the Save the Travelcard campaign, said: 'What becomes increasingly clear from this report is that the operators are looking to use the opportunity offered by the changes to consider ways of increasing income at the expense of the travelcard.

'This report is a catalogue of disasters for London. If this is to be the result of privatisation and deregulation, then these changes will have failed completely to meet the needs of Londoners.'

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