Train tickets rise, but what about the roads?

Tuesday, 4th January 2011 at 9:00 UTC 2 comments

It may have come to your attention that train ticket prices are rising by something like 6%, or more like 12% for some in the South East. The easiest complaints to make centre around the effect of vampiric companies drawing profits from government subsidy. But these rises are based largely on the assumption that passengers should pay more and the government, i.e. the taxpayers, i.e. the passengers, should pay less. Privatisation/Nationalisation aside, this logic needs examining.

First, I think its quite telling that the government has made a policy decision and left someone else to deal with it – externalising the blame onto the chief of ATOC (the Train Companies union). Poor Michael Roberts is then left to explain government policy to the BBC, instead of the Minister responsible. Much in the way that local councils have to explain the need for cuts that are essentially the decision of a government Minister, who can quietly get on with his work.

"At the moment, (the cost of travel) is paid for half-and-half between the taxpayer and passenger. The government policy is that the taxpayer ought to pay a smaller share of that in the future, which is why fares are going up.”

Now, this might seem an alarming state of affairs – I can assure you it does cost double the face value of a ticket to get from A to B on a railway, especially after profits are taken into account. But isn’t the tax payer also the passenger? Or the passenger’s employer? What this really means is that companies, especially those in central London making vast profits, should not be paying for their workers to get into work. Unless they actually start paying travel expenses to their lowest workers, I hardly see this as reasonable.

Then there’s the “on demand” nature of the rail network. The fact that I could get to my parents in a hurry, 3 trains and almost 3 hours away, if something terrible should happen, is quite reassuring. We pay taxes so we know that there will be a train in our hour of need, just as we pay tax so the NHS is available to help us.

But above all, there is the complete disparity in policy between this and road policy. Road users are subsidised, even though they are using private transport in its most literal sense. The road tax paid for vehicles in Britain simply doesn’t cover the cost of providing the roads to get people around, and local councils must find the money to salt roads and clear snow. Street lights are paid from council tax as well. In fact, our roads are subsidised in all manner of ways, at the expense of our health, environment and communities. We subsidise a method of transport that kills people with far greater frequency, and has a far greater contribution to catastrophic climate change.

As a cyclist, the roads I use are paid for out of the VAT, Council Tax and other forms of taxation, yet the damage I do to the surface is far less than a car will. Its a form of transport I have deliberately chosen not to take, and yet I’m required to pay towards its maintenance. Its really not fair is it?

Or maybe the point here is that transportation links are essentially a matter of national importance – things have to get around or we really would be living in Broken Britain. This is why taxation is an important part of the maintenance of good transport links, especially by the companies who ultimately benefit from having a mobile workforce, both for during work and for getting to and from. Yes, a contribution in the form of a Fare so as to limit travel to some measure of necessity and to balance out the richest and poorest folks contributions. But to say that the passenger should be paying a higher proportion, especially whilst roads are continuing to be subsidised, is not an sustainable, equitable model for the future.


Entry filed under: Cars, Cycling, Economics, Environment, News, Taxation, Trains, Travel.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Owen  |  Tuesday, 4th January 2011 at 9:13 UTC

    Good post Graham.

    Are you a member of the Campaign for Better Public Transport? Check out their website here:

    Last year I wrote to and spoke in person with Hugh Bayley MP and twice asked him to join but, sadly, he refused. He told me how cheap the trains were in this country (!!!), and praised the role privatization had played in that!

  • 2. Ceri  |  Tuesday, 4th January 2011 at 9:14 UTC

    Of course, bus subsidy is being cut by 20%, bus concessions for disabled people are council funded so we can expect to see them go, but new electric cars will be subsidised by £5k each. Yay.


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