Boris 'Targets Young to Look Tough on Crime'

Sharp increase in Oyster card confiscation for trivial offences

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Wandsworth Town

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.

MP for Putney Justine Greening said, "As a regular user of public transport I understand how important our local services are to Londoners, including the many young people who use buses and the tube to get to school.  They are very lucky to enjoy free travel with their Zip cards, and the vast majority use them responsibly with no problems. It is important to keep these photocards safe and secure as TfL use them check that free travel is authorised and to identify anyone who is misbehaving.”

Stuart King, Labour's parliamentary candidate told us,"It is right that one of the conditions of giving young people free transport in London is that they must behave responsibly when travelling on public transport - as the vast majority do. Confiscation of oyster cards is a necessary sanction but it is alarming that as few as one in twenty confiscations is actually for criminal and anti social behaviour - the behaviour commuters want the Mayor to crack down on. He'd be better placed concentrating on the small minority that cause the most inconvenience instead of playing a numbers game with minor offences."

James Sandbach the Liberal Democrat PPC felt that Boris should hand in his own Oyster card,"Given how useful oyster cards are to young people in particular, it is astonishing that nearly 4000 have been confiscated since the start of the year and for no good reason. The Mayor's confiscation policy is hitting young people disproportionately and will make it difficult to get about. Given his reckless tendencies, perhaps the Mayor should offer his own oyster card for confiscation and try getting to City Hall on foot."

If your child has had their card confiscated recently contact us on We will not publish your child's details unless you wish us to.

April 26, 2010