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Wednesday, 24 July, 2002, 15:18 GMT 16:18 UK
Should commuters pay more?
Passengers on the most overcrowded trains may be charged more for their tickets in a review to regulate rail charges.
The Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) says overheads have risen since the trains were privatised but fares only cover about half the railway's operating costs.
Commuters have benefited from a cap on fare rises for the last six years and the authority says limiting ticket prices may have added to the overcrowding.
Off-peak tickets may be lowered in price to encourage people to travel at the least busy times.
The Rail Users Group described the current fare system as a complicated mess where value for money is hard to judge.
Should passengers on the busiest routes pay extra? Do ticket prices need simplifying? Will better regulation of fares bring more revenue and an improved service?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Where on earth is all of the money going? Vast amounts are received in income by the train operators and yet here on the SW railway line we have the same overcrowded trains and slam door junk every day. Where are the new trains? Where is the service?
I pay £3123.60 for my annual season ticket from Winchester to London. I live where I live because it is affordable. The peak period on the trains appear to last from 0615 to 0900 in the morning and from 1600 to 2100 in the evening. The SRA is potty.
The fares will go up to create a bigger profit. Transport is a public issue and should be put back in the public sector, shareholders are unconcerned about pollution, lost man hours through train delays etc but these factors are very damaging to the economy.
Thank God I'm not a commuter but have to travel periodically to London at peak times. The trains are dangerously overcrowded, filthy and generally late. In a so-called civilized society it is unbelievable that hundreds of thousands of people are forced to spend so much of their time in sub-human conditions - and that's before they get on the train!
Tim, London, UK
Is this another example of the Government's "integrated travel policy". Drive motorists off the roads by using congestion charging, speed cameras etc onto the railways, then raise the fares to drive them onto the buses. In the meantime you create lot of high paying jobs for people who contribute very little to the process of running an efficient transport system. This is real blue sky thinking.
Luckily I only have to rely on the overcrowded and expensive tube service since I moved to avoid having to use what we laughingly call a railway service in this country. I've also managed to cut the railway out of all other journeys I make now, as I discovered not only was it one of the most expensive ways to get around the country it was also the least reliable. Four out of five weeks I tried to get trains from London to Cambridge there we're major delays of between 30 and 90 minutes, plus of course it was twice the cost of a coach. This latest suggestion that we should pay more for that sort of services will indeed get me off the trains, permanently. Well done to the government for "encouraging" us all to use public transport in this way!
Commuters are in many ways a captive market. Higher fares won't discourage 99% of us; they'll simply bleed us for more cash. Nobody minds paying a fair price for a good service, yet we face the prospect of paying more for services that are often more crowded and more dangerous than ever before! Privatisation did not bring competition - it's not as if I can just hop on a different company's trains to work!
Increasing peak travel tickets while reducing season passes allows the regular commuter to get to work (remember, work, the engine that drives the economy) while also discouraging the casual traveller from choosing the same trains. There will always be the occasional traveller who needs a one-off peak ticket (think airline schedules, job interviews etc) so the facility must exist for them, but the person on a day-trip to London should be encouraged to travel when the crush hour has subsided. For those who say people should live nearer to work - would you care to buy me a house in central London? I can't afford to myself!
Nicholas Britton, Wales
In any other industry, companies try to offer incentives to keep regular customers coming back. Of course the crux of the problem lies behind the statement that the running costs for the railways have risen dramatically since privatisation. This outcome was obvious to anyone who spent more than a few seconds thinking about the over-complicated structures that were put in place.
My first reaction was that they were insane; then saw they'd realised that commuters were a captive audience who could be extorted for any amount of money. No matter that the service is amongst the worst in Europe already and the prices among the highest. A rise in prices at this stage is going to mean many people lose their jobs because it's just not economically viable for them to go to work any more.
Yet another transport tax. Many of the people who commute (I'm not one of them) have little choice as property prices in and around London are so high but the jobs aren't available in the towns where they live. It's not a direct tax, but the government would then reduce the subsidy equating to the same thing less money in the traveller's pocket, more in the government's coffers for direct tax cuts just before the next election.
Because of the high fares and dreadful conditions on C2C trains I bought a scooter last Saturday. It cost a little more than an annual travelcard. Travelling to work by C2C and London Underground took me 1.5 to 2 hours each way, not including delays. Today my journey to work took me 55 minutes door-to-door. I know that when I leave work tonight I can just get on my scooter and be home in an hour - I won't be standing at Fenchurch Street waiting a couple of hours to begin my journey because of whatever the feeble excuse of the day happens to be. Higher fares? Bring 'em on!
There is something seriously wrong with the transport system when flights to the continent can cost considerably less than a train ticket to an airport.
I get the feeling that the SRA is proposing something ridiculous in preparation for announcing less ridiculous but still very unpalatable so that commuters are more likely to accept it.
This issue is yet another example of pushing problems around the system. Until we have a fully-inclusive centralised transport policy this will continue to happen with each form of transport in turn. I now commute twenty miles a day by bicycle across London. There is no other choice.
Where would the government get all this money? How about the billions they raise from the extortionate fuel taxes on motorists? On busy routes, extra services would be provided so that trains never become overcrowded and everyone is guaranteed a seat. Sadly, this is just a dream...
Come on people, it's obvious the government of this country has not got a clue how to deal with the intractable social problems facing it. Since no Government can see beyond the next election and no private company can see beyond this month's balance sheet, I wouldn't expect things to improve soon, or ever. Give up on London and on travelling by train that's what I say. And I suspect that's what the Government wants as well.
Why can so many other countries get it right, but we can't?
I'd quite happily pay more for my monthly travelcard if I knew the trains would run more frequently, or have 50% more capacity, and RUN ON TIME! As it is, this is a joke. Why should I be penalised further for travelling on desperately overcrowded mucky old trains which run infrequently, and are late most of the time? I thought the government wanted more people to use public transport. This is not the way to do that!
B Roberts, UK
The staff of railway companies try their best to provide customer care but are as usual there to take the brunt of complaints for their incompetent managers who are hiding in offices away from the travelling public.
If the government were to scrap the levels of management within these companies they operate a lot better and be more productive.
Hey, there are too many people on this train, let's put the fares up to price them out. Has any other business (private or public) survived in the long term through positive strategies to get rid of valued customers?
When my husband and I go to the theatre in London we drive into central London, pay to park there and then we walk the short distance to the theatre. This is cheaper than discounted Saturday returns for two adults and a lot more comfortable. There's something seriously wrong with that. How is Tony Blair and his gang intending to get us out of our cars and onto trains if the price of train tickets is allowed to go up and up and up?
Privatising the railways should have encouraged competition resulting in lower prices. But again we see the railway operators gaining ground for more operating profit. Ticket prices certainly need simplifying. A number of calls to the central railway bureaux will often give varying levels of information for pricing. The system has to be more efficient and locally based. Moving in this direction would help passenger confidence. Many people are dependent on travelling by rail but should never be viewed by the railway operators as wholly dependent in extrapolating maximum profits from some of its most loyal passengers.
If you are going to charge more then charge more for peak single tickets or returns but make season tickets a lot cheaper. The moment it becomes dearer to use the train then I will use the car. And there isn't really that big a gap as it is right now.
How can the government have the twin aims of getting people onto public transport and getting them off the trains?
I certainly do not want to pay more for my season ticket. The service is unreliable, the staff are rude and the trains are filthy. If I could get to work by some other means I would.
Public transport should be free.
When I buy a ticket to travel on the railways the ticket price should pay for my journey and system needed to make that journey possible, not as a means of funding further bad management and replacing poor investment.
The primary routes are the answer to further future in our railways, ticket prices should be reduced and additional trains should be added.
How can they say we have benefited from a cap on fare rises when my monthly ticket from Surrey to London has risen beyond the rate of inflation every year? Where is all our money going to? When someone flies their luggage is loaded for them, they're guaranteed a seat, there's entertainment available, food and drinks are brought to them etc. Every day we pack ourselves into crowded trains that take just one person to operate them and clearly have not been maintained for several years. Last night on my train home half the seats were broken, forcing even more people to stand.
It's down to bad management that the funds are not correctly allocated to maintenance and repairs. Why should I give more money to someone who already squanders it?
Jack Burge, England
It costs over £150 for a ticket on the 05.32 service from Swansea to Paddington. A distance of 191 miles, this equates to nearly 90p per mile! The car can do it a fraction of that. You do the maths!
Might I suggest these outraged commuters start buying scooters and motorbikes. You won't be held up by leaves on the line and will get to work with a big smile on your face rather than smelling of your rail travelling neighbour.
Dave, London, UK
I would just like to say that travelling in England by rail has been one of the most frustrating moments in my life. I have found it easier to travel by rail in countries such as Sri Lanka and Egypt. And unlike British Rail whilst on the latter I got a seat!
Paul Healy, London
The SRA employs about 400 people, it would appear, to sit around and do "blue sky thinking". Rather than put fares up, start by abolishing the useless quango that both operators and passengers have to pay for.
The question should not be a matter of paying more, we will no doubt have to, but why do companies insist of being in the centre of London, forcing hundreds of thousands of work commuters to travel in daily? Today we have e-mails, landline telephones by the millions, mobile phones abound and express mail guarantees delivery to any part of the UK within 24 hours.
After commuting by train for 10 years I finally gave up due to the cost and at the age of 36 learned to drive and bought a car. It's the best thing I ever did - no more shivering on platforms because the trains are delayed/cancelled and getting to work late despite paying a fortune. However my actions have not helped road traffic congestion.
It's no wonder people are so fed up in this country. First they are forced off the roads due to high costs, and encouraged to use public transport. These people then use public transport, pay through the nose, and are herded into carriages far too small for the demand. Then, because the public transport infrastructure cannot cope with it, they decide to increase the fares even more, to try and discourage people using the public transport. Duh!!! Will they therefore, be reducing the cost of car tax and petrol so that these people can use their cars again?
I started commuting into London in 1971, and from then until privatisation, annual fare increases were above the rate of inflation "to pay for planned improvements". I am still waiting for those improvements. I currently travel on an ancient diesel train that is unreliable and, when it is raining, has water pouring in around doors and windows. I would be very unhappy to pay increased fares again with little (no) hope of seeing any improvements before I retire.
Jim Bush, London
Why make road travel more attractive for goodness sake? I don't believe we should be pricing tickets according to demand like airlines do. There are fundamental benefits to the economy and the environment in having people travelling by train where possible - and keeping fares simple will help.
I commute on the C2C (London to Southend) line and have no financially viable alternative to the train. Indeed, once congestion charging starts next year it would be financial suicide to drive into London. We already pay far too much for a very poor quality service (over one hour late again today). Fares should be reduced not raised.
Warren Swaine, UK
Considering we are supposed to be reducing the number of cars on our roads, raising rail fares seems an odd suggestion. Pricing people out of rail travel is an appalling thought. I resent paying just short of £3,000 a year to travel in dirty, smelly trains with broken seats as it is. We very often have cancellations due to driver shortages. Can we not take a lesson from our European neighbours? How can they have such good, clean, affordable rail travel while we are forced to pay futuristic prices for stone age transport?
The general consensus, irrespective of politics, is that getting commuters off the road and onto railways is essential. As part of an integrated policy, rail travel should be made cheaper, not dearer, especially during the rush hour.
So what does the government want? People to travel by rail, people to travel by car or people to give up their jobs and go on the dole because they cannot travel? It's make your mind up time Tony!
More homes in the south east, but already the trains are overcrowded, expensive and unreliable, and the only solution they have for the current overcrowding is to price people off trains. Given the problems with housing in the south east, and the pressure to further develop airports and motorways why doesn't the government look beyond the short term, and invest more heavily in other parts of the country?
Does anybody feel like they are entering the twilight zone? We were told that the cost of motoring would rise steeply to pay for more environmentally friendly mass public transport systems - now call me stoopid but doesn't that mean the fares should be coming DOWN?
For the price of a season ticket the passengers could buy a scooter, save money and be at work in half the time - no parking problems or congestion charges either.
I suggest getting a car, not insuring it and travelling to work that way. Even if you were caught and they threw the book at you - it would probably still cost less than a season ticket for a year.
Phil, UK says we should live near our jobs. Obviously he has no idea how much property costs in Central London, only businesses and the wealthy can afford the prices. Meanwhile I'm so glad I've got my motorbike to beat the traffic and the train.
If prices go up substantially then I will begin to fare-dodge.
We commuters are the most frequent and regular railway users. Should our loyalty be rewarded with a large hike in fares to compensate for cheaper fares for off-peak users? That is grossly unfair!
To solve the problem of overcrowding, why not restrict peak-time, fast commuter services to season or 1st class ticket holders only, thus forcing other users to take the slow or off-peak services?
I already pay £2,800 a year on train travel. Why should I pay more? Most people pay 6-10% of their wages to commute and would gladly give up if they could find a local job. We don't actually want much. We don't want new air conditioned, computerised, sliding door trains, just a reliable service with plenty of seats and space and no cancellations or delays. I object to having my fares increased when there is no sign of me ever getting a regular seat on my overcrowded train.
Phil Wade, UK
I have no problem with travelling to work at 10 or 11am ... but I think my company would have a problem me doing it!!
Am I the only person that thinks this defies all logic??
We already pay more than off peak travellers. Why should we pay even more during peak times when there is no seating, it's hot, smelly, crowded and above all, unsafe? The only reason they are doing this is to raise money from a captive audience.
Why not use this same logic in other industries? Maybe we can charge motorists £5 for being "parked" on the M25 when it is packed.
Mike Donovan, UK
So it's over £100 London to Leeds? Try over £165 from Manchester or Wigan!! Yes, there are saver fares, but these have been restricted relentlessly for the last 18 months. Off-peak now means arriving in London after 13:00.
19 Jul 02 | UK
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