Older people have been slowly losing their right to free travel on public transport. An 'age escalator' has been in action alongside the rises in state pension age, which mean free travel is no longer immediately available to those reaching the age of 60. In London, however, the tide has turned. London Mayor, Boris Johnson, has announced a new type of Oyster Card which will give the over 60s free travel again from November.
But why, and is this fair to those outside London?
The new cardIn London, by April 2012, older people had to wait until the age of 61 before they were entitled to free travel with a Freedom Pass. The escalator will remain in place, and the age at which people will be entitled to a Freedom Pass will continue to increase.
However, from the autumn, the new card, the 60+ Concessionary Travel Scheme, will apply from the age of 60 until the day you are able to get a Freedom Pass. Johnson said: "Tens of thousands of Londoners were quite rightly incensed by the age escalator affecting the Freedom Pass, which meant their right to free travel was rapidly disappearing over the horizon. That is why I am very pleased to be able to set out plans for a new Oyster card that yanks this important concession back into place."
Those who are entitled to the pass are being encouraged to apply for one in late October, and more details about the scheme will be announced in September. We know there will be a £10 charge for the card, although this is being called an 'administration charge' and Johnson insists that TfL will meet the costs of the scheme.
Is this fair?It is easy to claim that the concession may be in some way related to Johnson's need to get elected as mayor. He can free up some budget for this move and thereby ensure the support of the group of Londoners most likely to vote.
Of course, this doesn't help the rest of the nation, stuck waiting for their bus pass - and even then only being entitled to off peak travel in England. It doesn't help those who had been taking 2.9 million concessionary journeys on National Express services before that concession was withdrawn by the government in November 2011. According to Age UK many disabled and older people fear that this particular cut may be the first stop en route to ending the broader concessionary schemes for bus use.
And there has been plenty of disquiet for those on higher incomes who are facing the constant threat of losing their entitlement to free travel altogether as the government weighs up the means testing of benefits for older people.
But what do you think? Should we be celebrating for older people in London, or asking why the rules should be any different for older people across the UK?