- Train fares have increased to outrageous levels – when is enough enough?
- Government should make train commuters one of its priorities
- I list six relatively simple ideas in which train operators could improve
Every year, I naively believe it will be the one in which the Government might wake up and do something for commuters who part with thousands of pounds each year to use a sub-standard train service.
Britain was built on the railway network – adverts on many carriages up and down the country currently say.
Track circumnavigates it like veins, yet compared to many similar-sized nations, it is overpriced and poorly run.
Data earlier in the year found that UK rail passengers are spending six times more on fares than those in Europe – with 14 per cent of income being spent on monthly season tickets.
Train pain: Hardy commuters have endured years of clockwork like ticket rises – but not such a clockwork service
Property prices have rocketed in recent years, especially in major cities. It means many have chosen to move out in order to get onto the property ladder where prices are more affordable.
A solution to our housing crisis, which is concentrated on these major city hubs, would be to encourage people to spread out and use the train.
However, many know just how expensive and rubbish the train services can be.
In my opinion, the Conservative Government should make one of their areas to concentrate on commuters – after all, they are likely to live in core Tory strongholds.
This would be, again in my opinion, a far more needed measure than for example, the ill-thought out energy price cap. Where is the rip-off rising train price cap?
Then last week, we had the news that Southern Rail buckled and has given its drivers a five-year pay increase worth 28.5 per cent. Allegedly, it was over safety concerns. I find it absurd.
Big rise: Southern train drivers will get a 28.5% pay increase over the next five years
That aside, here is my six-point plan to focus on commuters and train users, which will vastly improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of regular users:
1. Freeze fares (or at least stop the CPI madness)
Okay, this one might seem simplistic, but it is time for train operators to be told that enough is enough – and that fares must be frozen for at least the next three years.
Even allowing for inflation, rail fares have gone up by about 25 per cent since the mid-1990s and many now face an annual commute of more than £5,000.
For every £1 of train ticket, 26p goes on investment in the rail network. We have a largely safe rail network in Britain which is great, but surely there is some fat to trim in this department. I bet waste is rife.
Has your commute become better in recent years? The answer is probably no. Delays and cancellations are a regular occurrence – so just what is all this investment doing?
If a freeze is perhaps a little unrealistic, the least the Government can do is link fare rises with CPI rather than RPI – I worked out earlier in the year it would have meant prices would be 7.3 per cent cheaper today since 2011 if the measure was changed.
That would mean annual prices being £365 less for those paying £5,000 a year. It’s a national scandal – but one commuters just have to grimace and accept.
RPI link: Train tickets continue to get more expensive – a large part of this is the RPI linked rise. Why not use CPI?
2. Flexible tickets without weekend travel
One bugbear is the fact an annual, monthly and weekly ticket comes with weekend travel without an option of ditching it.
Given the fact that in large swathes of the country, weekends are out of bounds because of engineering work or just run a watered down service, many would probably be happy to do without.
52 weekends a year – 104 Saturday and Sundays per year. So that is 28.5 per cent of the ticket.
Give commuters the chance to ditch the weekends and save a quarter on their annual bill – or at least offer a 10 per cent discount.
3. Cheaper commute for first-time buyers
As I pointed out, many first-time buyers are having to move out of the cities – even the fringes. This means a longer and more expensive commute, which puts some off.
However, why not create an incentive – say half-price annual ticket for first year and a quarter off in second year of buying a new home in dormitory towns for under 35s?
This would encourage more people to perhaps look at less-loved areas and could help ease the housing crisis.
4. Proper bargain last minute tickets
A few years ago, I suggested that Britons should be able to apply for two sets of £10 return tickets per person annually, and use them to make whatever journey they wish – long or short.
The first set can be used between January and June, the second for the last six months of the year.
And they should be able to then book their journey up to 12 hours in advance, with certain limits, such as not being used for trains leaving between 7-9am on a weekday, but free of any other daft restrictions.
I still stand by this – it would give tourism a shot in the arm, and give people the chance to visit parts of Britain they may otherwise shun for a trip to Europe.
5. Better/easier compensation for delays
Most train companies operate the ‘Delay Repay’ system. The current system means a delay of 30 minutes or more triggers a refund.
So, if your train journey is half an hour anyway, you’d have to have another half an hour on top to get a paltry refund of 1/928th of an annual ticket.
The Government banged on about a new 15 minute threshold being introduced – but hardly any operators have signed up for it yet (shock horror).
They are meant to by 2020 – what is the betting most operators will wait until the very last minute?
I asked one operator. It said: ‘This is currently being discussed behind the scenes.’ That’s an ominous response for such a simple change.
Delay Repay is okay, but it could be better. For example, it should be paid straight into your bank account, rather than posted train vouchers or a cheque.
It should also not require filling a form and sending it in. It needs to be brought into the 21st Century so commuters can get proper compensation they deserve.
6. Get MPs to endure the commute
Do our MPs, many of whom seem out of touch with the real world, often take the train?
Do they see day-in day-out how poor value for money it is and how key commuters are to keeping the economy ticking?
Sure, Jeremy Corbyn made a big song and dance about not being able to get a seat on a Virgin Train last year – but that seemed like a bit of a publicity stunt to hark on about his idea to nationalise trains (that is not the answer).
I’d like to see all MPs travel for a month on the train in their constituencies (if it is a key train route) and see just how bad it can be, and why commuters deserve more.
Maybe then, they will see that the above is needed to start improving the quality of life for commuters.
Courtesy: Daily Mail Online