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London Transport Zones (Croydon)

Volume 588: debated on Tuesday 25 November 2014

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Crausby. I am delighted to have this opportunity to make the case for moving East Croydon and West Croydon stations from zone 5 to zone 4, or more precisely to zone 4/5, saving local commuters up to £336 on the cost of an annual travelcard into central London.

I hope to make the case for change by establishing, first, that these stations are closer to central London than other stations that are already in zone 4; secondly, that there is ample precedent for stations being re-zoned when a persuasive social and economic case is made; thirdly, that re-zoning these stations will support the local Labour council’s ambitious £9.5 billion growth and regeneration bid that would benefit a large swathe of south London and south-east England; fourthly, that there will be a net financial benefit from making this change; and finally that there will be much-needed savings for people travelling into central London, but no increase in fares for people travelling into Croydon from further south.

Travel distances from central London are standardised by measuring from Charing Cross. On that basis, East Croydon station is 9.3 miles away and West Croydon station is 9 miles away. The two stations, serving areas that include the town centre, are both in zone 5 on Transport for London’s transport travel zone maps, but many London stations that are further away are included in zone 4, including Kenton, which is 9.7 miles from Charing Cross, Malden Manor, which is 10.3 miles out, Hounslow, which is 10.6 miles out, Abbey Wood, which is 10.7 miles away and Chigwell, which is 11.7 miles away from Charing Cross. There is clearly an anomaly when those stations, all further from central London than East Croydon and West Croydon, are all in zone 4, while the Croydon stations are in zone 5. On the TfL map it looks as though the zone boundaries carve out Croydon for no good reason, although it has the effect of costing Croydon’s commuters more in travel fares than other Londoners have to pay to travel greater distances.

There is strong support for making this change from commuters I have spoken to outside both stations. One or two people have asked whether it is actually possible to get stations moved into different travel zones. The good news is that it is not only possible, but it has happened on many occasions—I have mentioned some—and there is no reason why it cannot also happen in Croydon, given the strength of the case.

Can I take my hon. Friend to the northern extremity of his constituency, where it shares a boundary with mine, to Crystal Palace station? Even though that station is in my constituency, a lot of his constituents use it. That station was re-zoned a few years ago—it was zone 4 and now it is zone 3/4—yet Penge East, which is a bit further away but has a much better service into Victoria and is in railway terms much closer, is in zone 4. People who want to get to Victoria quickly have to pay a premium for doing so. There are obviously problems with boundaries anyway, but there are huge anomalies in that part of London, and I wish my hon. Friend well in what he is trying to do.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his contribution and I wish him luck in his campaign to secure a better outcome for Penge East and the many commuters living in his constituency who commute into London from that station.

I remember well that Crystal Palace station was moved into zone 3/4 in 2004. Similarly, in 2007, Roding Valley, Chigwell, Grange Hill, Hainault, and Barkingside were all moved into zone 4 from zone 5. Earlier this year Stratford, Stratford High Street and Stratford International stations were all moved from zone 3 to zone 2/3. These are just a few of many examples of London stations being re-zoned.

Re-zoning Stratford was estimated to cost around £7 million, primarily, I understand, in reduced fare income, but it is expected to bring at least £25 million in increased economic benefit to the area every year. Croydon would also, in all likelihood, cost a similar amount but would also generate vastly more in economic benefit than it costs.

Croydon elected a Labour council earlier this year on a promise to be “Ambitious for Croydon”. I am delighted that it has been as good as its word and has unveiled an extraordinarily bold but eminently achievable £9.5 billion regeneration and growth package for the borough that could bring in 16,000 new jobs, 9,500 new homes and around 2,000 new businesses. The effects will generate economic growth not just in Croydon, but across a wide swathe of south London and along a corridor stretching from Croydon to the south coast via Gatwick airport, whose own expansion plans are co-ordinated with Croydon’s. Re-designating Croydon’s two central stations in the heart of this regeneration zone as travel zone 4 would help underline how close the area is to central London, as well as making Croydon more attractive to investors, businesses, home buyers, workers and visitors.

There are some concerns that re-zoning these stations would lead to higher fares for people travelling into central Croydon from other parts of the borough that are currently in the same fare zone. In fact, that would not be the case. There is no extra cost for travelling from zone 5 into zone 4, and the pay-as-you-go single fares and daily caps are the same for travelling across zone 4 and 5 as travelling within either of the two zones. Commuters travelling from East Croydon or West Croydon stations into central London would realise considerable savings. An annual travelcard holder would save up to £336 a year if this change were made. At a time when many people have found their wages held down or cut in real terms, this saving in travel costs would be particularly welcome.

I pay tribute to people who have offered support to the Zone 4 Croydon campaign, first and foremost the hundreds of Croydon commuters who were quick to sign a petition in support of making this change that I will, in due course, seek to raise on their behalf with the Mayor of London. He is ultimately responsible for taking the decision, subject to approval by the Department for Transport. I should mention Sarah Jones, a local mum and campaigner, who has recently been selected as Labour’s parliamentary candidate in Croydon Central, who launched the campaign with me. I am grateful to the Croydon Guardian and the Croydon Advertiser for their support, and to the leader of Croydon council, who has personally backed the campaign and intends to seek the formal endorsement of the council within weeks. There is real, strong support in Croydon for making this change. I trust that we will hear today that the Government will also offer their unequivocal support.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham West and Penge suggested, south London is poorly served by the current zoning arrangements, relative to other parts of the capital. This is not a problem that affects only East Croydon and West Croydon stations. Although I strongly sympathise with the other cases, I would not want any decision about East Croydon and West Croydon to be delayed while other worthy cases are also considered. Local commuters would not thank anyone who tried to put hurdles of this kind in the way of making this change. Re-zoning is not something that has to be implemented across a number of stations at the same time. It has always happened incrementally.

I believe the strength of the social and economic case, and simple fairness, demand that East Croydon and West Croydon stations must be moved into zone 4 as soon as possible. I look forward to hearing the Government’s view and hope very much that it is supportive and positive.

It is a joy to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. I congratulate the hon. Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed) on securing this important debate on London transport zones and Croydon. I recognise that the zoning of stations has a real impact on the cost of travel in London, and I am aware that this is a matter of some concern locally. We do, as a Government, understand how important rail travel is for this country’s economy and for all of us who use these services to get to work, to visit family and to get around. That is why this Government are investing £38 billion over the next five years to improve the national network, generating faster, more comfortable and more punctual journeys. I understand how important it is to keep travel costs for hard-working people down. That is why last year we curbed the rail industry’s powers to increase fares. It is also why we will hold down rail fares next year to retail prices index inflation for the second year in a row.

We recognise the importance of investing in transport in London. That is why we have provided Transport for London with more than £10 billion during this Parliament, which has enabled upgrades to the tube network that have already increased capacity on the Jubilee line by 33%. We will also see a 20% increase capacity on the Northern line from next month. The investment will also bring the first air-conditioned walkthrough trains to serve customers on the Metropolitan, Circle, District and Hammersmith and City lines. We have also transformed major London stations including King’s Cross, St Pancras, Stratford, Blackfriars and Paddington. The Crossrail project is on track to deliver a brand new railway across London by 2018, transforming journeys across the capital.

We are improving rail travel in Croydon. The Government’s investment in London transport has enabled the Thameslink programme of upgrades, transforming the line, which serves East Croydon station. Capacity will dramatically increase by 2018. A fleet of 115 spacious new trains will run every two to three minutes through central London at peak times.

It is fantastic to hear of the investment going into the system, but I was not seeking answers about investment in the system. I wanted answers on the zones in which East Croydon and West Croydon are placed. I hope that the Minister will address that point.

The hon. Gentleman need not worry. As he has left me plenty of time to speak, I thought I would put the debate in the context of the unprecedented investment that the Government are putting into rail, not only in London, but across the country.

Croydon receives an excellent and frequent train service. Someone would be hard-pressed to find an area in zone 5 with better services to central London than Croydon. The hon. Gentleman mentioned that Croydon is closer to central London than other stations in zone 4. Ultimately, there will be winners and losers in any simple zoning system, as stations near the boundary of a zone will be closer or further from London stations than others. Distance is only one factor in determining the zone in which a station falls.

The hon. Gentleman’s arguments for re-zoning Croydon stations are interesting, and it is important to have these debates, but there is an established process for re-zoning stations, which works as follows. The travelcard map, which shows the zone in which each station falls, is set out as part of the travelcard agreement made between the train operating companies and TfL. The Government are not a signatory. Any changes to station zones must be proposed by a signatory to the agreement; the Government are not able to do that. The proposal must then be agreed by the remaining signatories. The Department for Transport can approve or reject the change proposals. The decision is made by the Secretary of State for Transport on the basis of the business case. If the proposal does not represent good value for money, it is unlikely to get approval. The Government cannot and should not promote or back any proposal outside that established process.

I thank the Minister for his explanation. On the basis of what he has just heard and the link to the dramatic and bold £9.5 billion regeneration bid being proposed for Croydon through a regeneration and growth bid—we hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will endorse it in the autumn statement—does he personally think that the proposal should be supported?

As I made clear, it is a matter for TfL and the train companies. In passing, I point out that eight stations in East Croydon’s zone are closer to central London. Indeed, one is only nine miles away, while East Croydon is 10.25 miles, or 10 miles and 34 chains, I think, from Victoria. There is no official rule about where distances are measured from. By convention, some measure London distances from Charing Cross, but we are not aware of any reason why that should be the overriding rule. Generally the distance from the terminus station would seem to be the most sensible choice. That is Victoria in this case, although London Bridge is slightly nearer.

If one of the train operating companies running stations in Croydon wishes to formally propose the change, a number of factors would need to be considered. First, changing the zone of a station does not come free. A season ticket for zones 1 to 5 costs £2,136. The season ticket for zones 1 to 4 costs £1,800, so the difference between them is the figure of £336 that the hon. Gentleman drew attention to. Reducing the cost of travelling from a station reduces the revenue brought in by that station, and that can add up to millions of pounds a year. Ultimately, those costs would be covered by the taxpayer. A loss at Croydon might need to be compensated by raising fares elsewhere. At a time of intense financial pressure, is it fair to ask taxpayers as a group to pay for travellers in Croydon to have cheaper fares? It might be.

I am grateful to the Minister for his frequent kindness in letting me intervene. In looking at the cost of making the change, does he take into account the net economic benefit, as was the case with Stratford? The Greater London authority estimated that, although that change cost £7 million, the net economic benefit was £24 million, which is multiples more than the cost of making the change.

I understand the sensible point that the hon. Gentleman is making, which contributes to the debate. It is possible that the economic benefits to the area would outweigh the costs, but the question cannot be answered without some serious consideration. How would re-zoning impact businesses in the area? How would it impact residents? How would it impact surrounding stations and the areas that they serve? For example, passengers who live slightly closer to a station that was in the next zone might decide to change their journey plans and travel to East Croydon to save on their season ticket. The change could put increasing pressure on the station, which is already very busy.

The train operating companies would need to investigate all those issues. The argument for re-zoning would need to be demonstrated in a robust business case. The effects of re-zoning a station are not only financial; there would also be changes to demand at the stations. If it is cheaper to travel from one station in an area than another, people will choose the cheapest journey. That is the logical response, but a change will also make stations more crowded. East Croydon is already one of the busiest stations in the UK outside central London, and re-zoning it would make that worse.

A constituent raised the issue that my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed) kindly allowed me to mention earlier. The Minister said that passengers will choose the cheapest option, but that is not true in every case. It is also about the service. In the case that I highlighted, Crystal Palace is eight stations from Victoria, but Penge East is a mere five stations away. It is a much faster service from Penge East, although it is more expensive. People choose to go from Penge East; they do not necessarily go for the cheapest option.

The hon. Gentleman is right. The current zoning seems to as much be down to historical reasoning as anything else, but it is the basis on which the franchises have been let and the basis on which the train operating companies have calculated their revenue. In cases of re-zoning, compensation might need to be paid to those train operating companies to allow for the difference in income.

Is increased congestion at their station a trade-off that commuters are willing to make? Is it a trade-off that provides value for money? Finally, what consideration has been given to commuters who travel into Croydon for work? As the hon. Member for Croydon North has said, Croydon’s economy is flourishing and there are many jobs in the local area. If Croydon is re-zoned, travel costs for people living in London’s outer zones could increase significantly.

I hope that I established in my speech that re-zoning Croydon stations as zone 4/5 would not increase the cost for people travelling into Croydon from further south.

Yes, if the stations moved into zone 4/5, but if they just moved into zone 4, there would be an increase in cost, which would be a consideration for fare revenue. The re-zoning could have an impact on train operating companies. All those things need to be carefully considered.

As we have heard several times during the debate, Croydon is not the only place where calls for re-zoning are being made. A formal proposal has been submitted requesting that the Stratford stations should be re-zoned, and my Department has received correspondence asking for stations to be moved into the London zonal fares area. Other hon. Members have made similarly passionate arguments in favour of re-zoning stations such as Kingston, Surbiton and Epsom. I am sure that there are many others for which local arguments could be made.

Clearly, a wholesale transfer of stations into lower zones would not be affordable. It is, of course, important that the station zoning is reviewed and that re-zoning can take place when there is a strong case. The established process for re-zoning a station ensures that value for money and the impacts on other transport users are considered. That is what will need to happen with the proposals to re-zone Croydon.

In summary, I hope that I have been able to clarify the process for considering proposals to re-zone London stations. As discussed, it would not be appropriate for the Government to comment at this stage on the merits or otherwise of re-zoning Croydon. We will reflect carefully on the points made in today’s debate but can make no promises. The proposal will need to go through the proper channels and the proper process, and there will need to be agreement between the train operating companies and Transport for London. We would want to satisfy ourselves that any re-zoning proposal for stations in Croydon represents value for money. The Government are committed to ensuring that value for money is maintained to allow us to keep transport costs affordable for the travelling public—a key part of our wider commitment to improving the transport network both in London and across the country.

Sitting suspended.