|Boris 'Targets Young to Look Tough on Crime'|
Sharp increase in Oyster card confiscation for trivial offences
Boris Johnson is facing accusations that he has a policy of targeting trivial offences on public transport by children to boost his anti-crime credentials.
Figures released under the Freedom of information act from Transport for London show that over 1,000 more cards have been confiscated from children on buses in the current financial year an increase of around 50%. The eventual rate of increase is likely to be much higher because the figures for this year are for 10 months only. Over 3,600 cards have been taken away from children in the current year.
Although the confiscations are made under TfL's 'Anti-Social Behaviour Code' in 2008/9 just 70 of the 10,000 reports made were for actual behaviour issues. Over 95% of the reports made by bus inspectors were for 'offences' such as non-validation, damaged or defaced cards or allowing use by another child. As all children under the age of 18 and in full time education are not required to pay for travel on London buses, this is not fare evasion.
Nearly all the cards confiscated so far this financial year have been for issues other than anti-social behaviour. Only 91 cards out of 3,600 have been confiscated for bad behaviour, a lower growth rate than for the overall rate of confiscation.
Cases include cards confiscated after a child's father accidently put the card through the wash and one when an 11 year old girl's younger sister had made a mark on the photo. When the cards are confiscated the parents or guardians receive a letter inviting their child to do community service if they wish to get their free travel privileges. If they are unwilling they have to pay for a travel card.
One parent said, "We understand free travel is a not a right but Boris Johnson's current system is basically targeting the young to look tough on crime. Talking to other parents affected and reading reports in the press, the inspectors seem to be focusing on younger girls presumably as they are less likely to be any trouble. The whole thing smells of quotas mandated from above that the inspectors are under pressure to meet."
Transport for London won't provide figures for the ages of children who have had their cards taken away but anecdontally a disproportionate number seem to be 11 to 13 years old.
The Mayor was openly critical of his predecessor Ken Livingstone for not taking away enough Oyster Zip cards from children.
Speaking to Andrew Marr prior to his election Johnson said, "So far 4,000 kids are meant to have had [free bus travel in London] taken away and have not. Only about 300 in fact have been deprived of it."
A short while later when introducing his new policy to tackle this issue Johnson told the BBC, "We should take Oyster cards from the tiny minority that are abusing the privilege. If people knew they would systematically be deprived of it they would be much less willing to intimidate other passengers."
Part of this policy allows children who have their cards confiscated to earn them back by doing community service. All the parents who contacted us report that appeals through the official system are routinely turned down.
The mother of a local child who had her card confiscated after lending it to a 12 year old friend who would have been stranded alone without it said, "The cost of losing the card for a year could be over £1,000. This has caused our daughter a huge amount of stress and it is hard to explain to her what she has done wrong. We don't have a big income but we are reluctant to make her do the community service as there is no guarantee she won't have to work with older children who have committed serious offences."
During a recent visit by the Mayor to the area, we brought his attention to one of these cases but he refused to consider looking into the matter saying he was unwilling to make exceptions. We have asked Transport for London to comment on the issues but have yet to receive a response.
However, Labour candidate for Central Ealing and Acton Bassam Mahfouz did respond. He said, "It is shocking but not suprising that Mayor Johnson is abusing the powers afforded to him as mayor. Clearly, we must be tough on anti-social behaviour on our buses so journeys for everyone using them can be as pleasant as possible, but these figures constitute a direct attack on the youth of London.
"We know that my Tory opponent (Ms Bray), when on the London Assembly, was open in her opposition to free bus passes for young people, it would appear she is getting her way through this back door method of confiscation. The Tory manifesto of 'leaving people on their own' really rings true with this as they leave London's young people stranded without their passes"
If your child has had their card confiscated recently contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org. We will not publish your child's details unless you wish us to.
April 19, 2010