Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Not Fare Enough

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. 


  1. This is a familier New year present from the 1990's

    The trouble is that Labour never answer when questioned why it wasn't resolved during their last time in office.

    We can't have any confidence that a future Labour administration will do the right thing if you fail to explain why you didn't do it before!

    Foreign governments and certain 'business people' are making so much out of OUR public transport, our MPs are too scared to do anything about it.

  2. Anon; well look you will need to look at our manifesto but I have tried to explain why fares were high from 2005-2009 under Labour in the South East. You must remember we had to deal with a botched Connex franchise and at the time the government increased direct rail grant but expected as a proportion that fare payers contribute. This was essientially an investment argument.

    The Tories - who created this mess so can never be trusted with rail - then, and for electoral reasons - latched onto the fare rises but they never ever mention the Connex flop or indeed the reason why we have a private franchise model in the first place. They created this monster; we had to clear up the mess. This is why you can blame Labour for perhaps not cutting fares quick enough in 2008/09 which is a fair position but the true blame for this entire mess is the Conservative Party.

    The next question on the left is why BR wasnt nationalised on taking office. It would have cost billions upon billions to renationalise the entire system; as it was the cost of nationalising railtrack cost many billions in investing in the infrastructure alone. I can understand the anger on the left but once the genie was out the bottle (and remember who released it) it was not feasible. The solution now is the effective creation of mutual and not-for-profit franchises over the medium term; but the government is trying to create longer franchises deliberately to stop this model.

    The difference also now is the Tories are not investing in rail; they are cutting the direct grant whilst expecting a larger contribution from fare payers. Therefore to claim they are on the side of fare payers is laughable and utter rubbish. They want the fare payer to pay more as the government pays less; this is not about investment but about maintaining the status quo. Meanwhile they have completely hashed up the franchise process so leading to zero confidence they will have a grip on SouthEastern.

    The Tories want to prism this debate in a certain way but the truth is they were incompetent before on rail and they will be again. Creating market based monopolies wont work... ever.