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Sadiq Khan criticised for £24m Friday office return scheme with “negligible” impact

Sadiq Khan has been criticised after data appeared to show that his £24m scheme to encourage Londoners back into the office on Fridays – and boost the capital’s economy – had a “negligible” impact.

The mayor launched his ‘off-peak Fridays’ trial earlier this year to entice people back into central London, by abolishing rush hour peak Tube and rail fares at the end of each working week.

The rise in Londoners working from home – particularly in the aftermath of the pandemic – has meant Fridays in the city centre are quieter than they were before Covid.

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The scheme ran on Fridays for a period of 13 weeks, starting on March 8 and concluding on May 31.

The trial was advertised to Londoners across the Tube network, with several discount offers on restaurants and attractions also promoted to tie in with the scheme.

But Tube ridership data shows that the scheme appears to have resulted in only a three per cent increase in ridership.

Roughly 40.6 million Underground journeys were made on Fridays during the trial period – excluding Good Friday, when all fares were off-peak anyway due to it being a bank holiday.

Ridership during the same set of Fridays in 2023 was only slightly lower, at about 39.4 million journeys – again excluding Good Friday.

The figures, available on Transport for London’s (TfL) website, only cover Tube journeys and do not include ridership on the Elizabeth line, Overground, DLR and London’s national rail services, all of which were also part of the trial.

TfL said in its finance report earlier this month that total journeys across all its services are up just over 6 per cent compared to last year, meaning that the 3 per cent rise on the Tube on Fridays may have largely happened without the trial.

National rail strikes also appear to have reduced ridership levels on two of the relevant Fridays in 2023.

Keith Prince, City Hall Conservatives’ transport spokesman, said: “The mayor’s latest TfL experiment was nothing but an expensive election bribe. Off-peak Fridays will end up costing the taxpayer an estimated £24 million, despite having a negligible impact on passenger numbers.

Sadiq Khan criticised for £24m Friday office return scheme with "negligible" impact Harrow Online
Keith Prince AM. Credit: London Assembly

“Whilst we all want the Tube to be as cheap as possible, the £24 million which Sadiq Khan ‘spent’ on Off Peak Fridays could have been better put to use funding new zero-emissions buses, or helping sort out the problems on the Central Line, or procuring desperately needed new rolling stock on Croydon’s tram network.”

A TfL spokeswoman said in response: “We continue to analyse the impact of our trial of off-peak pay as you go fares on Tube and rail services on a Friday, which ended on 31 May 2024.

“This analysis will take into account a number of aspects including assessing changes to both morning peak ridership and overall daily ridership, as well as the impact to businesses across London.”

TfL points out that the publicly-available figures only show total ridership each day, making it less useful for assessing any specific journey increases during the rush hour periods covered by the trial. The authority also notes that ridership is always changeable around bank holidays, the Easter period and school holidays in April and May.

The £24m of funding to support the trial was “used to offset the difference in revenue shortfall” created by the scheme, the mayor’s office said at the time it was signed off. City Hall sources have previously rejected suggestions that the mayor “squirrelled away” money in order to spend it just prior to his re-election bid, calling the accusation “complete nonsense”.

A date has not yet been publicly set for when TfL will publish its own comprehensive analysis of the trial’s impact.

Speaking at the State of London Debate last week, the mayor said: “The pre-election period has slowed things down a bit, but I’d hope that in the next couple of months, we’ll have the results of the off-peak trial.”

Mr Khan has also said that boosting footfall to workplaces and businesses on Fridays is an issue cities across the world are grappling with, and that the results of London’s trial will be closely watched by politicians and transport officials across the globe

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