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Commuters need to pay for their ghastly journeys to work, writes Paul Geater

PUBLISHED: 10:00 05 January 2017 | UPDATED: 10:21 05 January 2017

Liverpool street station at rush hour

Liverpool street station at rush hour

Archant

I cannot imagine how miserable life must be as a commuter – especially someone travelling four or five times a week to London, writes Paul Geater.

The prospect of facing an hour to an hour and a half in a train twice a day before and after work every day seems too depressing for me to contemplate. And then there’s the cost to consider.

An annual season ticket from Ipswich to Liverpool Street now costs £6,323 a year. If you want one of them you have to pay for it out of your income which you will have to pay tax on first.

To justify that cost you will have to earn about £10,000 once income tax and national insurance is taken into account. That is a phenomenal amount and I can understand why many commuters feel sore about this week’s fare rises.

But while I sympathise with their plight, I cannot see any justification for not putting up fares in line with inflation. A higher rise could not be justified, but one pegged to the inflation rate is entirely equitable.

The railways in this country are 70% funded by users (passengers and freight operators) and 30% funded by the government. It used to be a 50/50 split.

If fares did not increase with inflation, the income for the industry from passengers would fall. That would mean either there would be less money to invest in new track and trains – or the government would have to make up the shortfall.

And that’s where things become difficult. Is it right for those people who rarely, or never, use trains to subsidise the journeys to work of commuters?

Is it right for the taxes paid by a supermarket checkout operator working in Suffolk to subsidise the journeys of City workers?

Rail will always need some support from the government – rural lines like that between Ipswich and Lowestoft or those in remote parts of the country are unlikely to ever break even.

But isn’t it right that those using the busiest services should fund the investment that is needed?

After all passenger numbers have been increasing steadily over the last 20 years, railways are now busier than ever despite fare rises over that period.

That suggests that more people are paying for the rail services anyway. Should the declining numbers who never use a train really subsidise this passenger boom even more?

And part of me does find it amusing that the Labour opposition is now pressing for fare caps and nationalisation.

When they were in power for 13 years the Labour government with John Prescott and Alastair Darling at its heart did very little to change things.

Fares went up by more than inflation and while Railtrack was nationalised and became Network Rail, the operating franchise system was left in place, albeit with some tweaks.

I suspect politicians know they can huff and puff in opposition – but there’s little they really have the political will to do when they get into government!

The rich world must be prepared to share its wealth

Do you remember the summer of 2005 and the campaign to Make Poverty History?

It seems like a lifetime ago that people were talking about making the world a fairer place. Now an increasing number of people seem to be calling for help to the world’s poorest to be cut back.

Not all aid money goes to the right place. Some projects are failures. There are failures in every walk of life.

But surely making those in the poorest parts of the world a little less destitute should be seen as an admirable aim?

Why are there so many people from poor countries trying to get to Europe illegally? Because they can see the relative riches here and see no hope of achieving those riches in their own country.

Is it really sensible to talk about cutting off the comparatively tiny amount of money spent in these poor countries?

Isn’t it better to support them financially, to try to make them richer so fewer people will feel the need to make dangerous and illegal attempts to reach wealthier parts of the world?

And of course extreme poverty creates a breeding ground for terrorism which blights all our lives.

Is it any coincidence that some of the most ruthless terrorist attacks of recent years have come from groups based in poverty-hit African states? And Al Quaida grew in Afghanistan, the world’s poorest country in the 1990s.

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