Boris 'Targets Young to Look Tough on Crime'

Sharp increase in Oyster card confiscation for trivial offences

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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%. A total of 3,600 cards have been taken away from children and only 91 of these have been confiscated for bad behaviour.

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.

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. Children who lose their cards can do community service but if they are unwilling they have to pay for a travel card.

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."

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."

We have requested comment from Transport for London but haven't received a response yet, however, the prospective parliamentary candidates for the main parties in Ealing Central and Acton have given their views.

Labour's Bassam Mahfouz was the most forthright, 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."

Angie Bray for the Conservatives said that it wasn't appropriate to categorise children who had accidentally damaged their cards alongside those who had lost them through anti-social behaviour but added:

'' I think we can all acknowledge that free travel is not a right but a privilege paid for by the rest of us. The system is designed to ensure that only those who have received that privilege should actually be able to exercise it.  Trying to travel on a defaced Oyster photo card  makes it difficult or sometimes impossible, for TFL staff to ensure the card is being used by the right person.  It is in the interests of all of us who actually finance the system that we are reassured that only those who are permitted to travel on a free oyster card can do so.'' 

Jon Ball for the Liberal Democrats said, '' The figures certainly indicate that a very small proportion of the deactivations were for criminal or anti-social behaviour, which may imply that this is not being detected successfully.  I'm not clear what "allow use" means, but if it means young people allowing older people to use their cards, then that is defrauding the farepaying public and should rightly be stamped on also.'''


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 20, 2010