Here’s a post that won’t make me popular. A lot of people, possibly well intentioned people, are campaigning to have Maryland Station moved from zone 3 to zone 2. The argument is one of fairness, why should people who live in one part of Stratford pay more for their transport than people in another, particularly when some of them are deprived? Because re-zoning would be deeply unfair, and hurt Maryland’s poorest residents the most.
Who gets whose money?
When you buy a travelcard, or use contactless or an oyster card to make a payment, your money goes to TfL, who then use that money to commission the services you use. That income from fares doesn’t cover TfL’s costs. If TfL had to live only on the money it got from fares and other operational income, like the congestion charge, it would be operating at a massive loss: £1489000000 in 2014/15 alone just to run services day-to-day.
The gap is made up by various grants from government. After these grants, it had a healthy surplus of £224 million in 2014/15, which it could plough back into the services it runs. The services that TfL runs are resolutely public, to help people live lives and conduct business in London. It has a moral duty to ensure that the services it runs serve the public good. Rezoning Maryland would not serve the public good, because it would give money to the people who least need it.
While there may be many deprived residents of Maryland right now, that could change very fast. Around 40% of residents who lived within walking distance of Maryland station rent privately. Private tenants have very little protection from rent rises, and can be booted out and replaced at two months notice. If TfL rezones Maryland Station, saving its users £224 a year, what’s to stop the landlord simply adding it on to the rent? Not much.
It’s worse than that, because a lot of people are under the impression that ‘Zone 2’ means a lot more than how much your fares cost. People post adverts looking for “a room in zone 2”. This was a big part of the reason why the stations serving E20 were rezoned, to absorb that cachet. The Centre For London Report which promped that decision stated that it’s Zone 3 status promoted the idea that Stratford was “suburban, distant and undesirable”. For this reason, I suspect that rezoning Maryland has the potential to increase rents by much more than the fare discount.
Let’s set aside how fair that decision was and restrict ourselves, for now, to the impact of a decision to re-zone Maryland. In a deprived area with a lot of private rent, increasing the overall rent burden beyond any fare saving is going to cause those people to leave or suffer. If they don’t work in Central London, they’re unlikely to even save anything in travel, given that outer london single fares are a flat £1.50.
Who gains? Property owners. If you have a property that you can rent our or sell for more you’re on to a winner. If you don’t intend to rent out or sell up, you still get a nice little fare discount … and maybe some nice trendy shops to appeal to all those people who can afford to live in Zone 2.
Fair? Hardly. Re-zoning Maryland would be a simple transfer of money from government grants and fares from other parts of London, into the pockets of people who own property near Maryland station.
In part two I’ll examine just how unfair the whole London fare system is, and how Maryland is actually doing pretty well on the deal.