Higher fares are not the remedy for our ailing transport system

Share

When working life resumes tomorrow after the long Christmas and New Year's break, almost anyone who uses public transport will learn that fares have risen by rather more than the rate of inflation. Rail companies defend the discrepancy, citing the need for more investment to improve services. But the objections of passenger groups - that they want to see the improvements first - are not unreasonable. On many routes, fares have risen sharply in recent years, while all too many travellers' experience is of cancellations, more late trains and obsolete rolling stock leaving from decrepit stations.

When working life resumes tomorrow after the long Christmas and New Year's break, almost anyone who uses public transport will learn that fares have risen by rather more than the rate of inflation. Rail companies defend the discrepancy, citing the need for more investment to improve services. But the objections of passenger groups - that they want to see the improvements first - are not unreasonable. On many routes, fares have risen sharply in recent years, while all too many travellers' experience is of cancellations, more late trains and obsolete rolling stock leaving from decrepit stations.

In the rail companies' defence, it should be said that new carriages are being introduced on many services, the trains are cleaner and the food generally better than immediately after deregulation. The increase in passenger numbers is also on their side. If the trains are so substandard and so expensive, why are so many people using them?

Among the reasons are the lack of alternatives and the soaring price of petrol, which may have discouraged some car journeys. Another is the possibility of finding cheaper fares in return for booking far in advance and using off-peak services. One person's bargain, however, is another person's rip-off. Too often it is regular commuters and business travellers who are effectively penalised because they have little choice about routes or time.

The application of the market principle of supply and demand to public transport may deter as many people as it attracts. The complexities of the fare structures alone are sufficient to send people back to their cars and already overcrowded roads.

If the Government is serious about encouraging the use of public transport and reducing road congestion, it has to do more to make public transport attractive. London, with its congestion charge and improving bus services, has shown one way forward; the success of the M6 toll road has shown another. Road pricing via tracking devices would differentiate between light and heavy road users, and could be fairer than the current system. It is good that ministers are considering new options, for the balance is still not right.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Gold Ferrari sits outside Chanel on Sloane Street  

Sunday Times Rich List: We are no longer in thrall to very rich people

Terence Blacker
David Cameron was openly emotional at the prospect of Scotland leaving the union before the referendum  

Remember when David Cameron almost cried over Scotland because he loved it so much?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions