Why you should be cross about huge rail fare rises

Well it looks like the Coalition Government is going to continue to ramp up the cost of travelling on the railways today.

It is optional – they don’t have to ramp up rail fares.  They have chosen to do this.  Why?  Because the Tories and the Lib Dems believe that farepayers should cover the cost of the railways and not the taxpayer.

That may sound logical but wait just a second, those railways are public assets and are providing a crucial public service.  We own the infrastructure and we (through the Govt) can specify fare levels for tickets on the trains run by privately-owned Train Operating Companies.

Why cross?  Well as I said, given we own the railways – and that we is all taxpayers remember not just farepayers – it seems odd that we (yes, taxpayers again) should be paying to protect and enhance the value and utility of our asset.

Even more fundamental is this… railways are a national success story now.  Demand is growing hugely and squeezing supply.  We have still got a number of years before the thameslink, crossrail and HS2 services begin to provide huge new capacity that is desperately needed now.  Fares are being used to manage that demand.  Managing that demand means pushing people into changing their journeys and that means greater use of private cars unfortunately.  That means lower air quality and significant detriment to public health and quality of life.

But it gets worse still. Higher cost of train travel means people won’t be able to travel.  That means they won’t be able to access jobs, skills, health and recreation.  That is socially divisive and just plain unfair and wrong.

And still worse. With worse transport options we actively disbenefit not just the national economy but also local economies too.  Good transport actively benefits the national and local economies – access to labour, to markets, attracting inward investment and encouraging people there to live, work  and play.  Bad transport is actively the opposite – a poorly located town or business park will shrivel up and die because it will have more preferable competitors to choose from.

So there you have it. Ramping up rail fares is bad for our wealth, bad for our health, bad for our society.

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