Kate Simon: Why do they make saving the planet such hard work?
Sunday 10 January 2010
As usual, January spells bad news for rail passengers as leisure travellers wonder why choosing the energy-efficient route will now cost up to 15 per cent more. And, as always, the train companies have been quick to defend themselves, saying that the average rise on fares is just 1.1 per cent, and stressing that cheap tickets are available if you look carefully, with bargain-basement prices, such as £12 one-way from London to Edinburgh, on offer if you make an advance booking.
Indeed, a friend reports that after being stung for £26 for a walk-on single from London to Brighton, she has now discovered she can make the journey for as little as £3 each way, at convenient times, with a little prior preparation on the internet. But why should it require any effort to buy rail tickets at prices that would encourage more of us back on to the trains? And what justification is there for train fares in the UK being the highest in the world? Carbon-friendly railways will never be a major weapon against climate change while profit remains the top priority of rail companies and making us pay for privatisation is the main aim of the Government.
Better news on public transport comes from the London Cycle Scheme, a long overdue initiative from Transport for London that will launch this summer. Some 6,000 bikes will be available for hire at convenient locations around the city centre for an on-the-spot registration fee of £1, plus variable payments for the amount of time you actually use the bike.
Let's hope London doesn't suffer the same troubles experienced in Barcelona, which has had a similar project in operation since 2007 – albeit shamefully designed to actively discourage tourists from using it, a situation reportedly due to pressure from the city's private bike hire companies.
One of the biggest problems facing the Catalan capital's "Bicing" fleet is vandalism and theft, even though the bikes are clearly identifiable with their red and white design and signature cumbersome rear mudguard.
So what is TfL doing to ensure that London's scheme doesn't come a cropper? "We've looked at the experiences of the many successful cycle hire schemes from around the world and have the advantage of being able to take those into account when delivering London's scheme," a spokesperson tells me.
"There is always a risk of vandalism or theft in public schemes of this type. However, TfL and our operator, Serco, will share the cost of this risk in the contract we've agreed, so both parties have an incentive to minimise issues of this nature."
TfL might be advised to bring similar commonsense to bear on its Oyster travel-card system. While adults can get this cost-cutting card over the counter, children aged 11 to 15 must register for the young person's version – a Zip photocard – to gain free bus and tram travel and discounts on the Tube, DLR, London overground and National Rail services within greater London.
If you're visiting from outside the capital, however, you must apply online three weeks in advance to ensure the card is delivered before your journey. Take heed if you're heading for The Smoke with the family because, as far as I know, TfL has no plans to change the system.
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