The London Card: Working Together, London Can Thrive

Huffington Post: This week, Loughborough University found that a third of all Londoners can't afford to live. Over 50% of their income is spent on housing, but as we know too well, it isn't just housing that costs more. Everything from restaurants, to travel, to groceries are more expensive in London. It costs an average of £4,100 to have the same standard of living that £2,700 buys you, say, north of the border.

London's Streets Are Not Paved With Gold

Despite Londoners forming only 13% of the population, we make a 23% contribution to the country's economy. We work an average of 30% harder and travel 23 minutes longer too and from work to accommodation that by any stretch of the imagination renders us 'space poor' whoever we are. A high flying architect I know is unable to afford much more than a studio in Peckham - and if you're anything less, forget it. Yet the Barnett formula that divvies out cash region by region gives us in London least of all - as no attention is paid to the fact that we have some of the poorest boroughs in the country.

I often wonder why this is. I can only conclude that governments are too frightened to spend money on London as from the outside, as it did to Dick Whittington in the 13-1400's, the streets seem paved with gold. It's just political suicide to treat us fairly.

London needs more than a strategic plan to confront the housing crisis - it needs devolution on a scale similar, possibly larger than Manchester's - so that it can deal with some of it's problems. But both housing and devolution will take a while to change whoever you elect. This is why we need complimentary shorter term plans to make living in London better, cheaper and more rewarding.

"He Was A Bold Man That First Ate An Oyster"

The London Oyster card has become a symbol of our identity. Housain Bairahiem, a 31-year-old dentistry student from Fulham who went to fight against Gaddafi's forces in Ajdabiyah back in 2011, was pictured proudly brandishing his Oyster card to prove his London credentials in an otherwise hostile environment.

Since Oyster was introduced in the summer of 2003, its success has been startling. There are now around 10m users, who account for more than 80% of all journeys on London transport, from the tube to the riverboat services.

With such amazing technology at our disposal, it's a shame that we don't make better use of it. I've spoken before about a London Card, an integrated pre-pay card system that would help to streamline our experience of the city as a whole, not just when getting from A to B. I've spoken to some of the big providers, including Visa and Mastercard, and they're as excited as I am by the prospect of extending the network. In this era of the shared economy and apps like CityMapper, we don't want London to get left behind.

The London Card

Hong Kong is leading the way in this regard. Its pre-pay equivalent, the 'Octopus Card', can be used in shops such as Starbucks, Pret and supermarkets as well as on public transport. Likewise, the Singaporean Ez-Link card allows for purchases in McDonald's, and even schools have adopted it to mark attendance and to pay for food served on-site. Buying our newspapers in the morning, getting a bite to eat from a supermarket - these things could become seamless and efficient with a more modern and integrated system.

But there's much more to this idea than just convenience. Our Card could be used to make a real difference to the lives of ordinary Londoners. With the potential of knowledge-sharing, we could provide navigational and informational services to disabled people, as well as providing precise updates on traffic and transport.

Major cities like ours need to foster a sense of community, and the London Card could help deliver a sense of citizenship and inclusion, too. One way in which we could achieve this is by launching a scheme to reward people who take part in their communities and selflessly try to make a real difference. People that volunteer at a local hospital or charity might get a different card with added benefits. For example, suppose a volunteer at a local school was given a purple card, which gave them subsidised access to events like fireworks displays and fairs, and attractions like museums and galleries.

The Freedom of The City, For Many

We've all heard of old institutions like Roman citizenship, and I myself have been fortunate enough to receive the freedom of the City of London, which grants me the privilege of driving sheep and cattle over London Bridge. It all sounds a bit silly and anachronistic in this day and age, but the principle may be well worth heeding. As mayor, I'd like to see people who do undertake good deeds on behalf of the city go noticed - the heroes that put in that extra effort on behalf of us should get something back. The London Card can be a relevant, modern way of rewarding good citizenship.

But we can go even further than just rewarding those that collect others' shopping and run food banks. I'd like to operate a system of incentives that would reward environmentally-friendly methods of travel. If you swipe your London Card on a Boris bike station, for instance, you'd accumulate 'green points' that would add credits to your London Card account. 

It may be a surprise for you to hear a Conservative saying this, but I want to unionise London. I want us to join forces to become the biggest spending force in the United Kingdom and us it drive down the prices that are crippling our citizens. Together, we can push down utility prices by collective buying, together we could get great deals on travel and food. Yes it's time to push government for more control over our own destiny, but in the meantime, we need to think outside the box about ways of making London dynamic, richer and more equal for all.


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