Grotesque over-centralisation of England's London-serving economy is a major reason why we have the dearest train tickets in Europe ("England, where train puts the greatest strain on passengers' finances", 2 January).
Many commuters are forced into long-distance commuting by lack of local jobs. But in addition, a culture, not least in the public sector, of 10am meetings in London places impossible burdens on railway facilities.
Protests about high rail charges rightly focus on ever-increasing fares in order to reduce Government support for essential rail investment. However, more needs to be done to make employers and meetings organisers face the economic costs of choosing central London rather than regional locations.
Other successful countries have a network of economic centres rather than a capital city at the centre of a hub-and-spoke transport system.
Shock horror... walk-up train fares from Stafford to London go up to nearly £100, reports Simon Calder (2 January). I immediately went online and found that the advance single fare for the same journey later that day on Virgin Trains was £57, and on London Midland was £23. So, with just a few minutes' preparation (even when inside the station using a mobile online device), significant money can be saved.
The rail, Tube and bus fare increases, all well in excess of inflation, are nothing but extortion.
The public is being forced to pay ever-higher prices for substandard services. The private sector is incapable of providing decent, efficient, affordable public transport, given that the providers are always driven by the hunger for greater profits and larger dividends for their shareholders.
The market has failed in public transport as it has failed in health, education, utilities and energy. It's time to re-nationalise.
You draw attention to the higher walk-on train fares in England. But a big problem is the unpredictability of fares: why should an off-peak day return from Newcastle to York be more expensive than one from Carlisle to Preston?
But what about bus fares? In the London area, bus fares are set by Transport for London, but outside London they are at the whim of the bus companies, and apart from long-distance coach fares, they seem to be secret. Try finding out the fare for going by bus from Carlisle to Silloth – the only people who can tell you are the bus drivers with the appropriate ticket machine.
The national enquiry line can tell you the times of buses but has no information about fares. It would be a good idea if you made a comparison of buses (outside London) with the rest of Europe: in my experience the situation is far worse than with trains.
Ian K Watson
We have child soldiers in Britain too
While in full support of The Independent's Child Soldiers Appeal, I think we also need to look closer to home. The British armed forces do recruit children as young as 16.
The British Government itself made a submission under Article 8, paragraph 1, of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, which states: "Army recruiting initiatives include presentations in schools by Army careers advisers, a variety of Army youth team and Army recruiting team activities, attachments and visits to units, school fairs, Combined Cadet Force, advertising and marketing initiatives, membership of the Army's Camouflage Club."
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2008 stated that the UK should "reconsider its active policy of recruitment of children into the armed forces". We need to put pressure on our own Government to stop recruiting children here into the armed forces.
If there's a speed limit, obey it
As the resident of a 20mph zone, I was saddened to read the old canard repeated by Keith Peat, spokesman for the Alliance of British Drivers ("Motoring groups warn of backlash on 20mph zones", 2 January): "What you will get is more drivers driving to the speedometer." And what, pray, do they do the rest of the time?
As long as there is a speed limit, any competent driver should be able to comply and still keep their eyes on the road. I drive at the limit (20, 30 or 40mph) and am often tailgated, undertaken and verbally abused by a minority of drivers. They seem to feel that driving "to what they're seeing outside their car" (to quote Mr Peat) translates to driving at whatever speed they like. Drivers should accept that slower speeds reduce harm, and that their journey, while important to them, does not justify taking someone's life.
So motoring organisations don't like the possibility of lower speed limits (2 January). But a lower speed limit takes account of the small child running out from behind a parked car.
Most advocates of speed believe they are good drivers, good enough to assess risks, and they, not the rest of us, get impatient with speed limits. The deaths and injuries caused by their "good" driving prove them wrong. Living in a rural area, I have to use my car, but I do not own the road. Neither do they.
Buckland Newton, Dorset
Weight is a complex issue
The study suggesting those carrying a few extra pounds live longer ("Overweight people have lower death risk", 2 January) does not tell the whole story, relying as it does entirely on body mass index (BMI).
Two individuals having the same BMI may have vastly differing body compositions. One individual could be carrying 40 per cent body fat and little muscle tissue, while another individual could be carrying 15 per cent body fat and have a muscular, athletic physique.
If the individual with the higher body-fat percentage obtained this through overeating processed foods, drinking too much beer or sugary carbonated drinks, and a sedentary lifestyle, and the other individual obtained their athletic physique via an exercise regime consisting of sensible resistance training, short-duration, intense aerobics, adequate rest and a balanced diet containing a high proportion of fresh, unprocessed foods, I know who my money would be on to reach the cemetery gates first.
However, this is a complex area and there are many other factors affecting longevity: lifestyle, smoking, alcohol, stress, genetics etc, and to produce a study whose results were statistically significant would be an expensive, complicated and lengthy process.
I have to agree with the new study on weight and death risk (2 January). Ten years ago I contracted a form of acute leukaemia. After six months of chemotherapy, I was cured. However, during that time, my weight plunged as repeated fevers destroyed my appetite, while the extremely high temperatures probably burned off a great many pounds. I started the treatment overweight, carrying a spare tyre. By the time I finished it, my weight was at the lower end of "normal". If I had begun with a BMI of 18.5, I don't think I would be here today. In anticipation of a possible relapse, I try to keep a few extra pounds, although I also try to keep fit by going to the gym two or three times a week.
In the year 6565 or maybe sooner
David Perry (1 January) may be not far from the truth regarding surrogacy for gay couples. However, his timescale may be open to discussion. In 1969 Zager and Evans predicted: "In the year 6565 ain't gonna need no husband, won't need no wife; you'll pick your son, pick your daughter too, from the bottom of a long glass tube." It may not happen in my lifetime (I am 58) but I believe it will happen long before the year 6565.
RSPCA cannot justify legal bill
Two points should be made about your editorial "A hunt chasing the wrong fox" (1 January). First, District Judge Pattinson's criticism of the £330,000 spent by the RSPCA was aimed at the scale, not the purpose, of that expenditure. As your newspaper reported at the time, the District Judge noted that the costs for all defendants, including those who were not convicted, "were in the region of £35,000 – so that's not much more than one tenth of the prosecution costs". There is simply no justification for such extravagant legal expenditure.
Second, the suggestion that "traditional enforcement channels are not proving wholly effective" is nonsense. The Crown Prosecution Service has brought hundreds of prosecutions under the Hunting Act and the RSPCA itself has produced a briefing which concludes "offences under the Hunting Act have been successfully prosecuted more often than comparable wildlife legislation".
The critical point about the Heythrop case is that none of the evidence on which the case was brought was considered by the CPS because no allegation was made to the police.
Director of Campaigns, Countryside Alliance
The Countryside Alliance will have a go at anyone who cares about the welfare of animals. The RSPCA now has the honour of being the blood-sports lobby's public enemy number one. It used to be the League Against Cruel Sports for its opposition to hunting, coursing and shooting. Then it was the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, due to its campaigns against lead shot and the "scorched earth" management of some moorland environments for the production of shooting estates' profits.
The Heythrop is the Oxfordshire hunt that Charlie and Rebekah Brooks, Jeremy Clarkson and David Cameron support, so perhaps the police and CPS would never dare investigate it. This prosecution was a great piece of work by the RSPCA.
Get it, George?
The FTSE 100 soared through the 6,000 mark on the news that the USA has avoided swingeing cuts in public expenditure and massive tax increases. Isn't that exactly the policy the Chancellor imposed on this country in 2010, telling us that there could be no alternative? Do you think George might have a rethink? No, neither do I.
Simon G Gosden