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Monday 15 August 2011

Mail And Express Rail Scare Fail

Nothing is as reliable a source of scare stories for the Daily Mail and Daily Express as the EU. And that part of both papers’ readership that commutes by rail – much of it in the South-East – is always susceptible to train fare horror stories. Thus when the Mail decided to frighten its readers over the European Commission (EC) transport white paper, the Express followed as in lockstep.

Brussels bid to raise our rail fares by 50 per cent as Government rail subsidies face the axe” thundered the Mail, in a piece first published yesterday. The Express, characteristically getting on board a day late, concurred: “Brussels Threatens Huge Rail Fare Rise” came the headline, though the laughably amateur journalism then told “a policy document revealed yesterday”. The EC works Sundays? Maybe not.

So what is actually going to happen? Well, given that the white paper, now over four months old (read it HERE [.pdf]), is only a series of proposals that have yet to be ratified by all 27 EU member states, nothing is going to happen. But this counts for nothing with the Daily Mail, where readers are told that the EC wants to increase road charges. It doesn’t, but this spreads the panic to car owners.

And the certainty of fare increases and road pricing does not survive a little examination of the much discussed white paper: here’s part of Paragraph 59 [emphases mine]: “Transport charges and taxes must be restructured in the direction of ... the ‘polluter pays’ and ‘user pays’ principle ... wider socioeconomic benefits ... justify some level of public funding, but in the future, transport users are likely to pay for a higher proportion of the costs than today”.

That differs not one jot from the policy of both the previous and current UK Governments, which is that passengers will have to pay more of the costs of their journeys over time. And those “increased” road charges? Here’s part of Paragraph 62: “For passenger cars, road charges are increasingly considered as an alternative way to generate revenue and influence traffic and travel behaviour”.

And the “Single European Railway Area”, that the Mail says “would hand greater control of Britain’s railways to Brussels”? That’s to do with abolishing obstacles to market entry, not centralised control. Paragraph 36 has the details. So the conclusion has to be that there are no grounds – once again – for this scare story, and that – once again – a little Googling and background reading demonstrates this.

But the agenda of both the Mail and Express – to demonise the EU – has been satisfied, so for the editors and owners of the titles, that’s all right, then.

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