It's a fact that since the mid-1990's, while motoring and air travel have become cheaper in real terms, while bus and rail travel costs have increased significantly. See p25 of this House of Commons Environmental AuditCommittee report for a graph. Effectively, this means that successive governments have presided over high-carbon travel modes become relatively cheaper. So much for the 'war on the motorist'.
So it's no great surprise that anecdotal evidence reported in the Standard suggests that the latest fare rises are resulting in commuters abandoning the train, driving towards London, parking in the 'burbs and taking a short train ride into town, thus minimizing their rail spend.
This is unsustainable. The roads simply don't have the capacity to accomodate any significant displacement from rail, and the resulting congestion will increase costs for businesses and cause general misery for others who have little choice but to drive. The great thing about running a tabloid newspaper is you can appeal to the parochial instincts of your readers and ignore the possible consequences. Politicians have no such luxury, which is why pandering to red-top headline-writers is a dangerous game. The logical thing to do in this situation would be to reset the price controls to encourage people to use rail. But because the Tories have nailed their colours to the mast by declaring an end to the supposed 'war on the motorist', putting up fuel duty would make them look pretty stupid. So what can they do? Businesses will complain loudly if congestion increases, as will private motorists. Road charging has been ruled out for this parliament. Building new road capacity would not work and in any case would be too expensive and too long-term. Osborne has turned the fiscal taps off, so there's no money to bring fares down.
Ideas on a postcard, to:
Rt Hon P Hammond MP,
Palace of Westminster,
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
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