Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The rise and rise of public transport costs...

Yesterdays return to work by many city dwelling office workers saw their first new shock of 2007 - train fares increased across the board.

Our train operators in the UK are all private companies delivering a public service on behalf of HM Government who abdicated their responsibility to provide a public transport service many years ago - but still like to keep at least one finger in the pie.

The train operators have two levels of price increases - those lines which are deemed by HM Government to be "regulated" services, ie the routes that commuters use most regularly, and the "unregulated" lines, ie everything else.

Regulated routes are allowed by Government decree to have a 1% above inflation increase every year in order to encourage investment in the rolling stock and service to customers whilst showing some sort of restraint on price increases. Unregulated routes are a free for all with every operator applying whatever increases they think they can get away with.

The 4.3% rises on regulated routes and up to 7.3% increases on some other lines don't really affect me at all, I have a car and use it always in preference to public transport, HM Government has not yet invented a reliable, safe, clean method of transporting me where I need to be at any time of the day that will surpass my car and the last time I used a train was around 15 years ago - the last time I used a bus was...I can't remember when the last time I used a bus was.

Now you may remember that back in April last year I tried to book a journey by train from Newcastle to Leeds and failed dismally to even find out how much it would cost me, let alone when the bloody train would run, eventually with the online help of someone who knows about trains and things I managed to get quotes from two operators who gave me eight different, completely different prices for a single ticket on exactly the same train, eight people sitting in the same carriage could have paid a fare ranging from £11 to £80 depending on whether they had a friend like mine who knows about trains, or not.

Confusion on tickets and their pricing is just one issue though - the real big one is that HM Government desires that we desist from using our cars for journeys and instead use public transport, trains being one of the favoured forms of public transport - unfortunately the train operators would prefer it if not so many of us would use their services.

Its a well known and well publicised fact that many train routes at certain times of the day are now specially targetted for special extortion by the operator simply because too many people want to use them - most obviously these are commuter routes at the start and end of the day when most people are travelling to and from work - the demand for services at these times of day are well documented to cause serious overcrowding on trains with most commuters having to stand in carriages for most, if not all of their route - and still pay the same price as those lucky enough to get a seat, an inflated price at that - I've said it before many times, if you invented a train carriage now you'd never get the idea past the Health and Safety Executive :-

"So you have 300 seats on your train, how many have seat belts ?"
"None of them sir, I don't think they'll need seat belts"
"Oh dear, erm, well we do actually"
"Well if we promise not to stop quickly will it be ok ?"
"We'll take it into consideration, erm, what is this scheme here for allowing another 500 people to stand on your train ?"
"Well theres loads of room in the aisles when all the seats are taken and I thought, well maybe we could squash a lot more in if they stood up"
"Do we really think that this is safe, hmmm ?"
"It will be if they're really crammed in properly, they'll cushion each other when we crash"
"I think you need to think this through again Mr Stephenson"

The obvious answer to anyone who gives the topic just two seconds of thought is "if the route is so popular that is causes massive overcrowding, then why not put more carriages on the train ?", too simple a solution ? Put it in a supermarket context - a demand is created for Birds Custard that means that it sells out as soon as the tins are put on the shelves, what do the supermarkets do - do they put the price up to £20 a tin so that no-one buys it any more, or do they just make room on their shelves to stock more of the product - I'll leave you to come to the obvious conclusion.

So there we have it - a Government who would love us to all save the planet and transfer our allegences to public transport versus transport operators who can't figure out a solution on how to handle the current level of demand let alone the Government desired increases and who are allowed (with the sanction of Government) to increase fares year on year to discourage public transport usage.

I am not mad.


John_D said...

You are not mad. The problem is that market forces, which this ridiculously privatised industry is subject to, dictate that you are doing a "good job" if more people want to use the service than you have capacity for and therefore allows you to drive up prices accordingly. Supply and demand and all that.... The fact that that theory just doesn't hold water when it comes to public transport is conveniently overlooked.

I'm so, so happy that my monthly railcard has gone up 7.5% recently for no discernible difference in the service. No, really.

Gary said...

I still don't understand why adding an extra carriage to each train would be so difficult.

Our local Horsforth into Leeds commuter train only runs every half hour at peak times, and its normally only three carriages, and yet its rammed full when it arrives at Horsforth (the first stop into the Leeds Metro area)- heres a revolutionary suggestion - one extra carriage and a train every quarter hour - 133% extra capacity.

I should be in charge of the world.

John_D said...

I fully agree with you - apart from the 'in charge of the world' bit, obviously - it doesn't make sense to normal people. However, accountants...