Following the news that train ticket prices are to go up a little less than the rate of inflation in the new year The Guardian’s Helen Pidd decides that we should all be boycotting those very price rises. Because, you know, there’s nothing that screams equality like a senior newspaper executive insisting other, poorer, people pay for her commute now, is there? For that is what she’s doing:[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Why I refuse to pay January’s unfair new train fares
So, what is the detailed analysis which leads to this call for a boycott?[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]There is only one thing for it. On 2 January, when the fares go up, we all need to refuse to pay the difference. A mass act of disobedience is all that will make these rail companies listen. Many stations outside major cities don’t have barriers. People can just board their trains as usual and offer the conductor the old fare. (Have exact change to make things nice and easy.) John Parker Lee, a photographer in Manchester, told me he got so fed up with delays a few years ago that he started offering 80% of the fare. The conductor never argued back. “If everyone started paying what the service is worth, and not what it demands, the network would be reformed in months,” he said.[/perfectpullquote]
Well, there’s this:[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Now, Northern Rail – a subsidiary of Arriva, which is owned by Deutsche Bahn, the German national railway – will tell you that it is phasing out Pacers, with the last one going to railway heaven by the end of next year. It will tell you it is investing unprecedented amounts in new trains, improved trains, better stations and more services. But last year Deutsche Bahn made a net profit of €716m (£638m). Why can’t it invest those profits to keep our rail fares low?[/perfectpullquote]
The profits made by trundling Germans around Germany – along with hefty subsidies from the German taxpayer for doing so – should be spent on train sets for a privileged Englishwoman. Yes, we can all see the logic of that, can’t we? But come on, this is someone on The Guardian’s staff, we know it’s going to get worse than that:[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Rail passengers have long paid over the odds for reliably shoddy services, with commuters on some routes paying six times more than their counterparts in France or Italy. But the pain is not spread evenly.[/perfectpullquote]
Actually, that pain is being put where it should be. British trains don’t cost any more to run than French or Italian ones. Rather less often enough in fact. It’s just that the costs of British trains are paid by the people who ride on British trains. Whereas in other countries those costs are paid by the general taxpayer, passengers paying only a fraction of the cost of the system. This is what Ms Pidd is demanding here too.
The Guardian pays quite well at the higher levels. Certainly, Ms. Pidd will be making more than the median income in the country, some £22,000 a year. Her demand is that other, poorer, people should pay tax so as to subsidise her gallivanting around on the railways. How sick and entitled is that?
And yes, worse again. For British train tickets are still too cheap:[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] Contrary to much wibbling around the place the British system of railways is not notably more expensive than those of other countries. Rather, the difference is in who pays for it all. Here, passenger ticket prices pay for some 99% of operating costs. In many other countries there is a substantial contribution from the general taxpayer. That’s what explains the difference in ticket prices. We think it’s just fine that those doing the travelling pay for the travel to be done. We do not see the point of taxing the dustman so that the Duke may go shooting. There are parts of the network which really do need subsidy – the commuter lines around the largest cities. They also get that subsidy. Other parts of the network make a profit and the two largely balance each other. This might not be perfect but we do indeed insist that it’s better than a general levy upon non-travellers to pay for those who travel. That tickets are still too cheap is proven by the manner in which only operating costs are being covered – capital costs still largely devolve to the taxpayer. This should not be therefore tickets should cost more. [/perfectpullquote]
Helen Pidd demands poor people subsidise for her train tickets. The rest of us should be insisting that Ms. Pidd pay for her own travel desires – before or after she goes boil her head being of little concern.