Don’t re-zone Maryland: Part 1, Whose money is it?

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.

16 thoughts on “Don’t re-zone Maryland: Part 1, Whose money is it?”

  1. Maryland is already unaffordable to many. The effect of rezoning will not dwarf the changes in prices that already have happened and will continue to happen. Prices aren’t that far off zone 2 Stratford already.
    TFL income according to their annual report 2015/16 is £11.5 billion. 40% from fares. I don’t think 40p a ticket will make much difference from one station. I’m not sure where your figure came from?
    Stratford is overcrowded at peak times and events( you must have noticed this). Keeping Maryland 3 encourages people to walk and use Stratford. Use of Maryland would increase with it being 2, particularly once cross rail opens.
    Where was your campaign/comment against the rezoning of all those other stations anyway? We might only get one chance at a rezone. I for one want it.

  2. I have to take issue with your post. You assert that any savings in fares resulting from the rezoning of Maryland will lead to an increase in rents so that rent-paying residents will not benefit from them. This purely an assumption on your part. I do not think that landlords would take note of the rezoning and increase the rent by £224 more than they would otherwise have done. Landlords are not so particular in their calculations. They will simply charge the going rate. But let us assume for the moment that rezoning Maryland will result in an increase in rents.

    In essence, your argument is this; rezoning will make Maryland a more desirable place to live; this will increase rents to the detriment of tenants; therefore do not rezone Maryland. But introducing a faster and more frequent rail service from Maryland will make Maryland a more desirable place to live and so will lead to an increase in rents. Do you therefore oppose the introduction of an improved service? Expanding this still further; ANY improvement to the area that makes it a more desirable place to live will lead to an increase in rents and should therefore be opposed. Is this in fact your view? Do let us know.

    1. Hi Geoff,

      Thanks for your comment.

      I don’t object to any enhancements to transport services, or indeed other improvements to the area. However, London is openly acknowledged to be in a housing crisis, and part two of my post (https://www.easternism.co.uk/?p=224) details just how broken the London fare system is. While a bit of community spirit is nice, this seems rather more about self interest.

      Zones are about more than transport, and being in a lower numbered zone carries a considerable cachet. I’d suspect that rents and prices would eat any reduction in fares *and more*!

      Of course the fare system can’t be expected to compensate for a broken housing system. But changes to both need to be considered, at least, at the scale of all of London, rather than people demanding piecemeal changes for their own personal benefit.

      If the citizens of Maryland wish to join a less parochial campaign to make fares fairer I’ll be the first to sign up.

      1. Of course, some people will be lucky enough to have nice, embarrassed or nonchalant landlords and avoid a rent rise, but this seems a very scattergun way to distribute the spoils of reducing the income of a public body.

        The whole system needs to be looked at and reformed, as I make clear in part 2 of this series.

        1. Richard,

          I reply to your two posts, I agree that the distribution of any fares subsidy should be equitable and I emphatically agree that there is a housing crisis in the south east. Of the two issues, housing is by far the more important.

          You have now abandoned the assertion that improvements to the area are a bad thing because they may result in an increase in rents. Your remaining assertion, which you repeat in your first comment, is that those seeking the rezoning are only interested in gaining the cachet of having a zone 2 station because this will increase property prices. So far as I know, you did not take part in any of the discussions about this; so far as I know, you have not met any of those involved. Personally, the “cachet” point did not occur to me until I read your post and I have not heard it mentioned by anyone else who is in favour of the change.

          There are very good reasons why Maryland station in particular should be rezoned. If you do not know know these, you only have to ask. Establishing the facts is, I suggest, a better course of action than making unsupported accusations of self-interest against complete strangers.

          Geoff

          1. A fare rezoning isn’t an area improvement, it’s a redistribution of cash.

            I can see why people might look over the border to Stratford and think “this is unfair”, but the nature of a Zonal system is that there will be borders and that they will be arbitrary. As I say, the whole system is grotesquely unfair, and desperately needs looking at. If the citizens of Maryland are truly interested in the problem beyond self interest, they’ll need to look beyond their local station.

            For what it’s worth, zones and season tickets are systems from another era. Now that we can have dynamically calculated fares, and even use smartphones as tickets, there are all sorts of interesting ways you could manage a system. You’re welcome to meet up and talk about that, if you find it interesting. I suspect the zonal system won’t be with us for that much longer.

  3. Rezoning to zone 2 attracts development, investment, growth and jobs. Otherwise, why does it happen? If it is to serve landlords why not rezone a dozen more stations? Rezone all of zone 3? There is a supply and demand effect. What you want is rent controls, so why not say it. Tinkering with zone issues is a very poor substitute issue. Remember: This is about the recentrering of London towards the east end where it can grow and arguable needs to grow. Don’t loose sight of the vision of what is trying to be achieved here or so I believe.

    1. Saying that this is sensible as part of a development policy is probably the best argument you’ll get for it. Way better than all that strange stuff about being really near another zone 3 station, or inadequately researched claims that it can make a significant difference to load on Stratford. You could find a real unfairness in the way that large investors get subsidy from TfL, but smaller and unmonied interests don’t. I never did say that the initial rezoning was fair.

      For what it’s worth, I think that the zonal fare system (and season tickets) are a relic of a byegone age, where people had to buy tickets before they travelled, and humans administered the fare system. That’s era is gone, and fare systems can change massively as a result. I think it’s a thing worth thinking about separately, and managed at a Whole-London level, in concert with housing, employment and development policy.

  4. Rezoning to zone 2 attracts development, investment, growth and jobs. Otherwise, why does it happen? If it is to serve landlords why not rezone a dozen more stations? Rezone all of zone 3? There is a supply and demand effect. What you want is rent controls, so why not say it. Tinkering with zone issues is a very poor substitute issue. Remember: This is in many people’s minds about the recentrering of London towards the east end where it can grow and arguable needs to grow. Don’t loose sight of the vision of what is trying to be achieved here or so I believe.

  5. Re-zoning Maryland will help ease the congestion at Stratford, both station and bus terminal. What difference will it really make to landlords anyway? If they want to increase rents they will advertise properties in ‘Stratford’, I doubt they will advertise ‘Maryland’ as the location of the property!

    1. Yes, Maryland is so useful at times of peak congestion that during that the olympics they … closed it for safety reasons.

      D’oh!

      1. They did close it, but you will need to ask them why they chose to do that when the Olympics was on. Not a very wise idea in my opinion. That still does not negate the argument for re-zoning Maryland to ease congestion. I take it you don’t live in the area yourself, so don’t have to fight at Stratford Bus Station every evening to get on a bus after a long day at work?

        1. I live about a mile down the road. I did live in Maryland for a number of years, and on two separate occasions. I tended to walk to Stratford station, since it was only a short walk away and much more useful. I’m skeptical about the impact that rezoning a station 5 minutes walk away would make. Stratford is a regionally important station, and a major train and bus interchange. People with local business in Maryland are only ever going to be a small minority of that traffic. If it were to make a difference I suspect it wouldn’t be one that you’d notice using it.

          I have tried to wrestle on to rush hour buses at Stratford station, and it’s far from pleasant. The whole thing needs to be comprehensively planned for to accommodate the likely growth of demand for transport in the area.

          Since we’re supposing things about each other, I might suppose that you have some vested interested in property prices or rents near this station going up.

          1. Then you would be supposing incorrectly. I don’t own property in the area and I would hope the prices don’t go up as I am renting! Maybe re-naming Maryland station to something like Stratford Rail might help, as ‘Maryland’ doesn’t really exist. I don’t believe anyone in the area around that station uses ‘Maryland E15’ in their address.

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