Wednesday 2 January 2019

Rail Fare Increases - a disaster for the environment

The increase in UK rail fares is in the news today, including the astonishing claim by the transport secretary that the increase is due to the trade unions. How dare ordinary people working on the railways expect a reasonable pay increase? Nothing to do with the management of the railway or the government, and notwithstanding the fact that the fare increases are based on the rate of inflation, apparently this is all the fault of the ordinary worker.

But that's no more than I would expect from a right-wing minister in a right-wing government. Using the misery of people whose real income is lower than it was 10 years ago to bash the opposition is just the kind of narrow-minded self-important thing we've come to expect from politics in general and this government in particular.

No, what's more important is the effect this kind of policy has on the people, the country and the environment. The same set of policies which caps fuel duty rises for road vehicles whilst cutting bus services and increasing public transport prices across the board.

The effect on the individual is obvious, especially on those who can't afford to run a car. But the effect on the local and global environment is arguably worse. A 3.1% increase makes people's budgets tighter without doubt, but it will also drive people back into cars. How can you expect anyone to move from the roads to public transport if the latter is unreliable, slow, crowded and expensive? Some rail journeys now cost more than £1 per mile! To put this in perspective, my old car costs less than 25p per mile to run, and it's got four (five at a pinch) comfortable leather seats.

Something has to change. Not this daft, over-budget new high speed railway, but a different funding structure to make the railways work for the people. Not re-nationalisation; I'm old enough to remember just how terrible British Rail was. Perhaps the Welsh model will end up working better - it's got off to a bad start, with loads of trains cancelled, but it promises a great deal so we'll see. Whatever happens, our governments have to be prepared to change their spending priorities to create a railway which works for the people it is meant to serve, the passengers.

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