Today, fares on SouthEastern Transport have increased above the level of inflation for another year causing pain and misery on hard pressed commuters already struggling to afford the costs of daily living.
According to the Campaign for Better Transport the average cost of a season ticket has increased by £1,300 and fares have grown 20% faster then wages over the last decade.
Those in Kent have been stung the most as a direct cumulative result of the botched Tory privatisation in the 1990s, the Connex franchise mess and the resultant SouthEastern operation which has been allowed to flex fares across its area of operation.
Annual fares from Ashford International in Kent to London have risen by more than £2,000 with fares from Sevenoaks in Kent to London have increased by nearly 90%, from £1,660 to £3,112. In Kent and Medway people commuting into London by High Speed One may have to pay £5200 just to get to work.
The Tories may be content with having a railways for the rich man and the Lib Dems may not think the cost is expensive but the truth is people are being priced off of rail.
Many who commute into London from Kent also use London transport. Under the Tories in London transport prices have seen a 55% increase in the price of a bus journey and a 52% increase for a zone 1-4 tube journey. In addition to some of the highest property prices in the world, London now is now head-and-shoulders above other capital cities when it comes to transport costs, with a day Travelcard costing a third more than an equivalent in Paris and three times more than an equivalent in Berlin. We do not compare favorably with other European centres.
Working people are not only being priced out of living but are now being priced out of travelling. The backdrop to the fares explosion is a stagnation in earnings – median income for full time workers is stagnant with many currently unemployed or underemployed doing part-time jobs. The more pennies pinched from us as we travel to and from work means we have even less money to spend in Aylesford, Snodland or Medway; where a cinema ticket costs upwards of a tenner and you’d be lucky to get much change from a fiver for a pint in a pub.
Will the increase in fares at least pay for a more modern, more efficient, less crowded transport system?
In response to this pressure on the cost of living the government has barely lifted a finger on price rises and has botched the franchise process with private companies and commuters aghast at the incompetence seen on the West Coast Mainline.
Many SouthEastern commuters are worried this government has lost grip entirely on rail. As it is we have a government which claims it is investing in the rail but in reality the fare payer is subsidising a cut in the rail grant. We are still waiting on improvements to Rochester Station; Snodland still has limited high speed one connection and Aylesford residents have nothing to look forward to but years of chaos at London Bridge.
Many of our Kent MPs pledged to stand up for the commuter pre-2010, but it is noted we still have the Dartford Toll; we still have potholed roads and we still have the threat of a mega-airport leading to congestion chaos if considered for Cliffe.
A worthy transport strategy has to balance long-term improvements in infrastructure with short-term affordability while people feel squeezed. Under this government, neither is taking place. Our transport network is becoming more expensive, more crowded and even more unfit for a modern, growing region which is the gateway to Europe. Just like with our aviation strategy we need a real review of the franchise model the expensive ticket pricing structures; it is time a not-for-profit model was considered and fundamental long term reforms introduced.
And where is the Tory Secretary of State, Patrick McLouglin? Nowhere to be seen on fares; instead leaving it to Norman Baker to cover for what is one of the totemic transport issues his department should be dealing with.
Off the rails? Only with this government.