There were gasps of surprise last week when it was announced that season ticket fares for rail commuters could be as high as 10 per cent of net income. Predictably, passenger groups had a lot to say about it.
But those figures were statistics. And, as everyone knows, statistics don’t always tell the whole story and can be manipulated to prove almost anything.
So what is the truth?
First of all, some basic facts.
Most long-distance – and a lot of short-distance – commuters choose to do so. They want to work in London, or other high-pay centres, and they don’t want to (or can’t afford to) live in the city. So they live in suburbs, dormitory towns or the country and have to travel to work.
Secondly, that travel may cost them 10 per cent, but 10 per cent of what? Of a higher income, that’s what. So if a commuter pays £5,000 a year on a season ticket, but has a job that earns them £10,000 more than if they worked locally, they are still £5,000 better off. Percentages don’t come into it, its hard cash that matters.
And for those that complain about the time taken in commuting, or the discomfort of standing, the same argument applies. Is standing on a train worth £5,000 (or £10,000, or £20,000)? If it is, then so be it. If it isn’t, get a job somewhere else or work different hours to miss the peak travel times.
Of course, train operators should be encouraged to run longer trains more frequently, and so reduce overcrowding. But again, economics come into it. A train in which everyone has a seat is twice as long as one on which 50 per cent of the people stand. Or the train company needs twice as many trains.
Either way, the trains cost twice as much to buy, use twice as much energy, and cost twice as much to maintain. So is it a surprise that tickets cost more? Once again, there is a stark choice – stand, or sit down and pay more.
Or live and work outside London and the major cites, and have none of these problems – except for a lower take-home pay.
Written by Nigel Wordsworth