Monday, January 3, 2011

Fare Rises

Train fare rises have taken effect, averaging over 6% with some season tickets rising 13%. I've blogged before about the foolishness of this policy.

The government says the rise in train fares is necessary to invest in rail infrastructure.

This is both untrue and disingenuous.

It is untrue because there are plenty of other ways of raising money. The money could be raised through taxes, it could be raised through a general levy on all transport or through a bond or share issue, or a combination of any of the above.

It is disingenuous because the clear implication is that today's rail travellers must pay for tomorrow's improvements because they, and only they, benefit. In the case of student tuition fees it is easy to make the case that the student benefits from their own education; that it is an investment in their own future. With trains it is simply not true. There are some services that won't benefit, at least not proportionately. There are some people who commute by train daily but will retire before the benefits are delivered. And there are some who currently don't use trains, and therefore don't pay, but will profit in the future from other peoples' investment.
There are also people who will benefit indirectly from better railways: people who use the roads benefit from less congestion due to people not driving.

So why is it exclusively today's train users who have to pay for the infrastructure investment, some of whom will benefit and some who won't? Why are car drivers or bus users exempt? (Train users are expected to pay for the M25 widening through their taxes even if they never use that road.) Why are there people who will benefit but aren't paying? Why aren't commuters granted shares in the railways given they are being forced to invest in them? Why is the government so reluctant to force people to be more active, to use their cars less or to eat healthier food, while it is quite happy to force train users to pay for investment in better trains?

Effectively, these fare rises are a highly regressive and unfair 'stealth tax'. The burden falls heaviest on the poorest train users. Furthermore, it is a tax that actually punishes green travel and incentivises car use. Encouragingly however, it is also the Tories' least popular policy: a recent YouGov poll showed it was opposed by 8 in 10 people.

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