Conservative London Assembly members refused to back a cross-party appeal to Government opposing cuts to children’s free travel in the capital.
After October half-term, ministers plan to make most young people over ten pay to use London buses – with exceptions to help vulnerable pupils or those facing long journeys get to school.
This will reduce pressure on public transport and help maintain social distancing, they claim.
But campaigners, politicians and children in the capital fear it will hit poor families hardest, and want the plans to be dropped.
Labour, Green and Liberal Democrat members today (Thursday September 3) backed a formal motion at a virtual Assembly meeting calling for a U-turn.
Labour member Alison Moore, the group transport spokesperson, said cutting free travel is “an attack on young Londoners at a time when they need our support most”.
Children could “struggle to get to school on time” or “miss school altogether, ending up unsafe on streets in the winter,” she warned.
And the bureaucracy of setting up a “contorted system” to decide which pupils will still get free travel is costing London councils time and work when they “can least afford it,” she said.
Ms Moore, who also chairs the Assembly transport committee, called on the Government “stop playing obscure political games with the lives of our young people”.
Green Assembly member Caroline Russell said it was “outrageous” that children’s free travel has become a “political football” at “a time when [young people’s] futures are on the line”.
While more children should be encouraged to walk or cycle to school during the pandemic and beyond, ministers must provide “more money to fill in the gaps” in funding, she said.
Liberal Democrat Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon said scrapping free travel will cost the tax payer “tens of millions” because councils need new systems to check free travel eligibility.
“This policy is based on petty politics and quite frankly arguments that rest on ignorance,” she warned.
But Conservative Assembly member Keith Prince, the group transport spokesperson, said money was a “red herring” and the policy addresses reduced capacity on public transport during the pandemic.
To maintain social distancing, buses can only take between six and 30 passengers depending on the size of the vehicle.
The Mayor, Sadiq Khan, laid on extra dedicated buses for school children as schools resumed this week, and Mr Prince said these could “mitigate” the need to cut free travel.
London Conservatives “absolutely support” free travel for youngsters but believe the Assembly should wait to see if the new buses help before making demands of Government, he said.
This approach would not be “politically motivated” and “could actually achieve something for the young people of London,” he argued.
But Ms Moore rejected the charge of political game-playing, claiming her motion reflected “frustration with a proposal that shouldn’t be on the table”.
Waiting to reflect on the impact of extra buses would mean councils continue to “put themselves through hoops” to set up a new scheme in the meantime, she said.
The motion opposing Government cuts to under 18s free travel passed with 14 Labour, Green and Liberal Democrat members supporting it, and seven Conservative members abstaining.
The two Brexit Alliance Group members were not present at the meeting.