Rail fares are going up again – or rather, most are, while a few are not. And of those that are increasing in price are the season tickets of those who, for whatever reason, commute into London over distances that those in other European countries would not even consider (there are those who commute daily into the capital from Bristol, Newark, Birmingham and Winchester – and beyond).
Nuneaton - "only" 97 miles from London
The figures make grim reading: an average increase this time round of just over 4%, with the past six years having seen an increase in earnings of under 16%, while the cost of rail travel has increased by a whopping 40%. So what do commuters (who don’t need the press to tell them that they are “hard pressed”) get for an outlay which can extend well beyond the four figure mark annually?
Those living in Brighton, to pick a town with a large commuter flow over a middling (for the UK) distance, now have to stump up just over £4,000 for an annual season. So, provided you do 20 round trips a month, over ten months of the year, this works out at around £20 a trip, and just under 20p a mile. And travel over any “permitted route” at weekends is thrown in at no extra cost.
There are also bargains to be had, and not just with book-ahead tickets: it is still possible to get from Crewe to London for £28 return, working out at well under 10p a mile. But these fares do not hit the headlines: rather, it is the peak time walk-up fares for the fastest trains that hacks home in on. And they certainly look expensive. So the blame game starts. And most of the participants get it wrong.
Even dear Bob Crow of the RMT Union, who, it might be thought, would know one end of the industry from the other, can’t point the finger accurately: “Anyone who thinks that this massive fares surcharge will be invested in our railways needs their head examined. This cash windfall will be siphoned straight into the pockets of the private train companies without touching the sides”.
Never mind, perhaps the press have figured it out. Or maybe they haven’t: the Mail suggests that Network Rail’s management salary structure is a contributory factor, which, if you’re measuring ticket savings in fractions of one penny, is right. Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin waffles about fare rises ending in time for the next election, as if commuters have shorter memories than most hacks.
And his shadow Maria Eagle blames the Tories, which is disingenuous, because the correct answer is that not only is the Government behind the fare rises, but it has been the case whoever has been in power recently. Of every £1 paid for a ticket, almost half goes to Network Rail, which is state-owned in all but name, with the operators getting 3p for their profit. That is down to successive Governments.
If Governments do not change that arrangement, then it will continue. Simples.