Boris Johnson's campaign team issued a press release yesterday condemning the plan for a 24 hour Freedom Pass as 'crazy,' 'mad,' and 'daft'.
The extraordinary statement was drawn from comments by the Chairman of TravelWatch Brian Cooke. The statement was intended to draw attention to Cooke's endorsement of Boris for Mayor, but it is his criticisms of 24 hour Free travel for pensioners that has turned heads. The relevant section of the press release reads:
'Brian (Cooke) was very critical of Ken Livingstone's plans to extend the freedom pass to be available 24 hours per day. He said "As I will be 60 in about nine months time I can’t wait to get my freedom pass but allowing people to use it before 0900 will only make London's very crowded transport system even worse. Many people over 60 still work why should they be subsidised by all other fare payers and at the same time make transport system even more crowded and more uncomfortable for those that will be paying to subsidise the others. I think that plain daft. If current patronage on Tube, Rail and Tram in particular carries on growing at the current rate the planned expansion won’t cope anyway and to subsidise more people at the most crowded time seems totally crazy.
This was another of Mr Livingstone's proposals that he says he will introduce but has failed to have any consultation with those that matter the most, or their representatives - those who put money in the fare box! I also do not believe any research has been undertaken to get passengers views on this. Currently the boroughs fund the freedom pass through local rates. Have they been consulted on this mad idea - not one jot! In fact frankly I doubt that Mr Livingstone can actually deliver this as it will require agreement from the privatised train companies which in my view is unlikely to be forthcoming - why would they want their trains to have even more sardines in the can.'
This statement will now place further doubts on Boris Johnson's commitment to the Freedom Pass. Although Boris has consistently said that he would retain the Freedom Pass as it is, on Ken's planned extension of the pass, Boris has only said that he would 'work with the boroughs' to achieve it. With many Tory boroughs deeply hostile to any extension and with the Tory head of London Councils calling it a 'stealth tax', this statement will only further add to voters' doubts.
The statement will also be a major embarrasment to Boris' PR company. Last week it was revealed that Kate Perrior of iNHouse PR is being paid on a strict commision basis, with each Boris gaffe reducing her pay. While Boris has already done his best to eat into her salary, the release of this off-message statement from her own office will take a more unexpected chunk out of her cheque.