There's been a lot of talk recently about the soaring cost of public transport, and how it costs more to go by train than it does to catch a plane from, say, London to Manchester. The price of a standard open return rail ticket on the London to Manchester run is now £219, after the New Year hikes in prices. The wonder of it is that there is anyone that pays such silly prices. Maybe disqualified drivers and Russian oligarchs are filling the carriages that pull in to Manchester's Piccadilly station every day.
Now, I know that you can find some remarkably cheap fares by going on-line and booking six months in advance, but I'm not at all sure that this answers my main point. Which is that it used to be very cheap and easy to turn up at a British railway station and buy a ticket, without having a laughably high price quoted at you. And it's not just the prices that have become more unattractive. Restrictions on the service have also got worse.
In the days of British Rail, I could buy the cheapest saver return ticket from London St Pancras to Leicester, and go out on a Friday night and return on a Monday morning. Then came privatisation, something called Midland Mainline, and the end of such flexibility. That started to put me off taking the train.
A few months later, when I was still using the train for trips up north, I found the usual InterCity 125 had been replaced by some sort of Noddy train of the type you get on commuter routes: tiny seats and uncomfortable. Then came the final straw. I was told by a member of staff on the train to return a copy of the Evening Standard that I'd lifted out of a first-class carriage. OK, I was wrong to nick it, but it was late on a Friday night, there was a vast pile of Standards, and more newspapers than passengers in first class. Still, I had to put it back. I vowed there and then that such pettiness would not go unpunished. I have never caught a Midland Mainline train since, and I never will.
That Evening Standard would have cost Midland Mainline 25p, probably less as it was almost certainly discounted. Not very much for the sake of customer goodwill and a more than a decade of lost business.
And now I'm going to have to boycott the buses as well. Sorry to be London-centric, but what Mayor Livingstone does is usually copied by mini-Kens in town halls across the land in due course. It cost me £2 to go two stops in suburban London. Two quid! The last time I got on a bus, I had to hand over £1 for a journey of about a mile, which I thought was steep. Now, for some reason, Ken Livingstone promotes public transport by raising the cost of a bus journey to what must be a world record. Pro rata, it would've been cheaper to hire a Rolls and chauffeur.
Livingstone has done much the same on the Tube, where going just one stop costs £4. Again, there are various discount schemes such as the Oyster card that bring the cost down, but it's still outrageous. My tip for occasional visitors to the capital is to forget the buses and Underground and take taxis on short journeys. Relatively speaking, a black cab has never been cheaper.
Anyway, Margaret Thatcher said that anyone over the age of 30 who found themself on public transport may count themself as a failure in life. Despite that, for quite long periods in my life, I persevered with waiting for buses and trains and Tubes and trams. There have been times, believe it or not, when I didn't bother to run a car at all. Not any more. I always felt worthy about using public transport, even when it was dirty, unreliable, unfriendly and unsafe, which it usually was. Nowadays, its overcrowded and far too expensive. So I've been priced into my car. Quite an achievement, really.Reuse content