In what will doubtless be attacked as a pre-election giveaway, the Mayor of London has announced that tube and rail fares are to be cut on Fridays to off-peak rates all day.
The Mayor has asked for this trial to help TfL and rail operators to understand better how off-peak fares on a Friday could help drive ridership and boost London’s wider economic recovery. However, it seems to be a presumptive announcement, as the GLA and TfL accept that they need the support of the wider rail industry and are only in early discussions about how to implement the change.
The decision to scrap peak fares on Fridays is also a reversal of the position taken a year ago when rumours of a Friday fares change first emerged and were strongly denied at the time.
Peak fares apply between 6:30am and 9:30am* and between 4pm and 7pm on both TfL and National Rail services in London, and assuming negotiations with the train companies are successful, then the trial to offer off-peak rates all day on Friday is expected to begin in March and last for three months.
For example, someone commuting from Zone 6 into Zone 1 would currently pay £5.60 for travelling on the Tube. Under this trial, this fare would be reduced to £3.60 – saving them £2. Someone commuting from Richmond (Zone 4) to Hammersmith (Zone 2) currently pay £2.80 for the trip. This fare would be reduced down to £1.90 – saving them 90p.
The Mayor says that the move will boost London’s culture and nightlife businesses, which have seen much quieter Fridays since the pandemic, but the trial will need to show that saving a quid or two on a trip is enough incentive to pay £6 for a beer.
The move to hybrid working often sees people work from home on Fridays and Mondays, leading pubs and bars to see Thursday become the new Friday in terms of how busy they are, as Thursday is, for many people, the last day of the week in the office.
Midweek ridership on the London Underground is now at up to 85% compared to pre-pandemic levels and is continuing to grow, but Friday ridership remains lower at around 73%. As a scheme to boost ridership, the trial will need to work out if the extra revenue from the increased number of passengers offsets the loss of peak-fare revenue from the three-quarters of passengers who are already commuting on Fridays.
The change won’t affect buses or trams, and is not thought to affect Heathrow fares, which were recently switched to peak rate all day.
Even without any impact on London’s cultural venues, the trial will be a modest fare cut for people who are required to commute to work by train on Fridays (assuming they don’t use a travelcard), and those tend to be people at the lower end of the salary ladder, often working in services who can’t work from home on Fridays.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan said: “London is the greatest city in the world. From the bustling office districts to its rich offering of bars, restaurants, galleries and theatres, I want everyone to be able to make the most all week of living or working in London.
“I’m doing all I can to support Londoners with the cost-of-living crisis and to support London’s economic recovery. This includes freezing TfL fares for another year to make transport more affordable for millions of Londoners and to encourage more people to use our transport network. But I want to do even more. London has really bounced back since the pandemic, but the lack of commuters returning on Fridays is a clear exception – with a major knock-on effect on our shops, cafes and cultural venues. That’s why I’ve asked TfL to trial off-peak fares on Fridays, and I encourage Londoners to get involved.
“A trial will help us to see if it’s an effective way of increasing ridership and giving a welcome boost to businesses as we continue to build a better, fairer, more prosperous London for everyone.”
*Some stations the 9:30am off-peak start can be a couple of minutes earlier due to train timetables meaing a long wait for the first off-peak train after 9:30am.