Sadiq Khan has kickstarted his bid for a second term as London mayor by pledging free travel on the city’s transport for anyone accompanying a disabled person.
The promise came on the same day as rail passengers nationally were hit with annual fare increases, this year averaging 2.7%.
The pass would provide free travel for anyone accompanying a disabled person on all services including the tube, Overground and buses.
Although he is consistently polling better than his closest challenger, the Tory candidate Shaun Bailey, over the last 12 months Khan has been criticised for the capital’s rising crime rates and knife crime. His personal popularity ratings nosedived to their lowest ever in the summer of 2019.
Travel is a traditional battleground for mayoral candidates, with transport and making the capital more accessible a key part of Khan’s pitch to voters before May’s election.
The former Labour MP became London’s first Muslim mayor in 2016, beating the Tory candidate Zac Goldsmith.
Khan said: “My job is to stand up for all Londoners. I want to ensure everyone in our city can access our fantastic transport network, and that travel in the capital is inclusive and affordable.
“The companion pass is intended to make a big difference to disabled Londoners. It will help them to move around our city more easily and take advantage of all the fantastic opportunities London has to offer.”
He boasted of freezing Transport for London fares for four years in a row under his leadership and rolling out his “hopper” bus fare, which provides unlimited travel within a one-hour period.
He said if he won the 2020 race he would instruct TfL to work closely with disability and accessibility groups as well as London councils to draw up details of the proposal.
It is expected that anyone with a disabled persons’ or older persons’ freedom pass who also requires a companion in order to travel will be able to apply for the new pass. It would be issued to the person who needs assistance so it could be used by different family members, friends or carers.
Alan Benson, the chair of Transport for All, which provides advice for disabled transport users, said: “Transport for All have been calling for a companion pass for disabled people on public transport for many years, so we are delighted that this policy will lead Sadiq Khan’s campaign. The rights of disabled people are rarely put front and centre by policymakers, so this is a welcome change.
“The provision of a companion pass is an access requirement, in the same way as a lift is; without it, many disabled people simply cannot travel as they can’t travel alone.”
Khan described the battle for London as a two-horse race against Bailey. YouGov/Queen Mary University London polling this autumn put Khan on 45%, Bailey on 23% and the independent candidate Rory Stewart – a former Tory secretary of state – on 13%.
The Liberal Democrat candidate, Siobhan Benita, will hope to improve on the party’s showing in 2016 when it achieved 4.6% of the vote. The Green candidate, Siân Berry, who is running in 2020, was third at the last election with 5.8% of the vote.