Tackling climate change …by pricing people off the railways!

Today’s Times headline declares: “Rail Fares to soar as funding is slashed”. Rail passengers face above inflation fare increases every year for the next decade (1% above inflation each year). In effect passengers will be made to pay a higher proportion of the cost of running the network. From 2009 the annual subsidy for the railways will fall from £4.5 billion to £3 billion. Needless to say the government proposes to leave in place the privatised structure of the railways. 

The government’s Transport White Paper says that whilst there are no plans to abolish the price cap on cheaper saver fares, it might remove the cap in future and give train companies much greater freedom to raise fares if they could show that “such a move enjoys customer support”. You can just imagine the customer lining up to campaign for increased fares. Obviously the drafters of the White Paper have a great grasp of reality! 

Transport Minister Tom Harris said it would be “sensible” for the farepayer to make an increased contribution to the cost of running the railways. 

What has been the response of the unions? The RMT declared that the investment in parts of the infrastructure was “ a step in the right direction”. However, the fare increases would “block increased rail use on the scale demanded by the environment and economy, and that the private franchise system would have to end if the railways were to play their full role in cutting emissions.” 

“We need a rail fares system that is going to encourage more people out of their cars and onto trains, but that will not be achieved by signing off franchise agreements that allow massive fares hikes…It is the fragmented structure of the industry that stands in the way of achieving the massive shift from road to rail that the environment and economy need. 

Franchising and rolling-stock leasing are huge drains on the network, and returning the industry to the public sector would release at least £800 million a year to be invested in further infrastructure and services,” Bob Crow said. 

TSSA General Secretary Gerry Docherty denounced the government’s decision “to make passengers pay for its decision to cut subsidies by a half between 2009 and 2014″. The TSSA supported Gordon Brown for party leader on the grounds that the union could influence him more if they did. It’s therefore understandable that Gerry sounds a little irate. 

“Ministers claim they want to encourage rail travel and then kick passengers in the teeth with huge regular hikes in fares. They are pricing people off rail and onto the roads. This is the economics of the madhouse. They claim they want cheaper public transport and then do everything in their power to discourage it.” 

Gerry might have added that Gordon had kicked him in the teeth. 

In a rather mealy mouthed statement the Amicus section of Unite welcomed “the on-going commitment of the government to long term investment in the UK rail network”. However, said National Officer Bob Rixon, the union was concerned that “our members and the UK economy is not fully benefitting from these unprecedented levels of investment.” 

“…Unite believes that in order to move the industry forward and provide the best value to both the taxpayer and passenger the Government must move away from its rigid adherence to the current flawed privatised model introduced by the Conservative party.” 

For one moment there I thought he was going to call for renationalisation of the network. But no.  

“All stakeholders must make every effort to ensure that the UK’s rail network is no longer characterised as a fragmented industry with a fragmented approach to solving its problems and is developed into a service that both the work force and the public are proud of.” 

That sounds like an appeal to the private companies to act ‘reasonably’. The ‘fragmented industry’, however, cannot be resolved by ‘stakeholders’ working together, but by ending the privatised structure, and running the network as a public service.  

Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly complained that the government has been saddled with the cost of clearing up “the mess of a botched privatisation”. What better way to clear it up than leave it in place! 

This policy, of course, makes a nonsense of the ‘green’ credentials of the government. As Transport 2000 said, you won’t tackle climate change by priciing people off the railways.

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