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

10:00 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.

31 comments

  • Gobby: then why not join us? FOSDEM (check out the website) at ULB in Brussels in early February. 8000+ attendees (sorry, the 5000+ was from a few years ago). I won't be talking to all of them but I've no idea who I will be talking to yet. There will be hundreds of breakout meetings and I'll certainly be in several of those. From the website: this edition features 596 speakers, 651 events, and 53 tracks.

    Report this comment

    Jimbo

    Wednesday, January 11, 2017

  • And oh yes, so if there are 5000+ people at a conference (one that requires face to face contact) and you only speak to half of them for 10mins each I think that comes to over 17 whole days, not allowing for sleeping eating and answering calls of nature. A likely story!

    Report this comment

    Gobby

    Monday, January 9, 2017

  • Large conferences using video links rather than physical presence occur all the time all over the world. If businesses have to move from london into the provinces it will not cause their skilled workers to scarper to Bucharest!!! They will move there too and be glad that their work is local and not have to be travelling hours a day to and from it. This line of argument is the same as the daft Brit on the radio just a couple of days ago who was bemoaning the rapid decline in Brit night club scene, esp in London, who said it was the 'vibrant' club scene of |London that helped encourage bankers from all over the world come to London to work. Absurd. Bankers come to London to make money,. not get stabbed outside his seedy clip joint. It would be a very fine thing if a lot more businesses moved out of london. It would ease the London versus England imbalance and help lessen one of the most grievous social-economic divisions of the UK. I can't see that these state of Indian railways is a good argument for state subsides.

    Report this comment

    Gobby

    Monday, January 9, 2017

  • Quote: "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." Yes it is coincidence, Mr Ipswich. The common factor is Isl@m. But you don't dare say that...

    Report this comment

    cthulu

    Saturday, January 7, 2017

  • Quote: "Why are there so many people from poor countries trying to get to Europe illegally? " Er... because metropolitan elite virtue-signallers like Mr Ipswich will give them a free lunch?

    Report this comment

    cthulu

    Saturday, January 7, 2017

  • Mr Ipswich proudly parades his ignorance of basic economics! Quote: "The railways... are 70% funded by users... and 30% funded by the government. If fares did not increase with inflation... the government would have to make up the shortfall." Try to understand one thing Mr Ipswich, the government has no money to fund anything- it is ALL tax revenues. It is the taxpayer that makes up any shortfall. Is that too complex a fact for you, Geeter?

    Report this comment

    cthulu

    Saturday, January 7, 2017

  • We could only hope for the Victorian stands of engineering in our modern network. Systems built to last for decades! However, the train should be (and is in other countries) an environmentally friendly, fast and convenient form of transport. So, for example, I make use of WiFi and tables to work on when travelling to London. There's no other way to get from Ipswich to central London in just over an hour while responding to e-mails and drinking coffee. Similarly, I can't see how you'd drive from London to Brussels in two hours (mind you, Eurostar, can we have WiFi please: this is the 2010s). As I've said before, we use face-to-face meetings for inter-company and conferences. I'd like to see 5000+ people on a conference call, hence the big conference in Brussels. That's gong to be three days of serious learning! We also have less formal monthly meetings in London: no surnames, no company names, Chatham house rule in effect. It's held in London because it's central to a lot of us and has what should be good transport (which is what brings us back to the subject of this posting). This is why a decent rail infrastructure is critical: it's not just commuting. If you insist that companies move out of London then they will. Bucharest being an alternative much in vogue at the moment. Berlin has been very active in recruiting start-ups from Silicon Roundabout too.

    Report this comment

    Jimbo

    Saturday, January 7, 2017

  • Well confused here , Mr Geater is playing the devils advocate only a couple of weeks ago he was bragging at Ipswich station with Gummer about the Ipswich to London in 60 and why are we spending over 50 billion on high speed links in the country if trains are not suppose to carry passengers ? Ok Mr Geater do you have a senior rail card ..? That's subsidised by the checkout worker !

    Report this comment

    deeber

    Saturday, January 7, 2017

  • And I forgot to say: Railways are good at the thing they were originally designed for: Moving Freight, not people.

    Report this comment

    Gobby

    Saturday, January 7, 2017

  • Railways are a quaint victorian mode of transport. And if people can't afford to live in London then the employers will have to move their businesses to places where they can obtain the necessary labour. It;'s call the operation of a free market which is consistently proved to be a much more efficient use of resources than any 'Planned Economy' ever has been or ever can be. I would like to see how much euro-cash has been given to develop the public transports systems like in countries like Spain etc. Either that or they have been built using borrowed money that those countries are struggling to service and threatening to shake the European financial system to pieces. Years ago there was a very interesting report of a very famous surgeon who lived in England but did most of his work in the USA. All the pre-operation planning was done via the internet and he just flew out to the USA, did the business and then flew home the same day. Face to face meetings? Mostly unnecessary, unless of course the main business is a shindig rather than serious work

    Report this comment

    Gobby

    Saturday, January 7, 2017

  • Surely if you remove the vital subsidies then rural train services would be lost ? Why would a train operator run a non profit service as others have said they have done that with buses and left villages very isolated.

    Report this comment

    Macke

    Friday, January 6, 2017

  • Roads are paid for by everyone, not just car drivers. Many commuters will own cars and pay their share of car taxes. On the whole train usage is a public good. Without it the traffic queues would be completely impossible. Does anyone know if the money the government gets off the train operators goes into the taxation pot from which the government pays the railway subsidy? If not what is it used for and how much is involved?

    Report this comment

    amsterdam81

    Thursday, January 5, 2017

  • Baptist Trainfan - nobody subsidises my car journey to work, so why should anybody going by train get subsidised?

    Report this comment

    Mr Grumpy

    Thursday, January 5, 2017

  • Several supporters of re-nationalisation here - but most railway buffs say that things were worse under that constraint. Be that as it may, Mr Geater, all taxation relies on a varied take-up of services provided. Pensioners who pay tax pay for schools; fighting fit twenty-somethings pay for hospitals they may not visit; pacifists pay for defence. Civilised society needs these things to be available for whoever and whenever.

    Report this comment

    floreat

    Thursday, January 5, 2017

  • Although poor countries are perceived as breeding grounds for terrorism, there are other factors at play. Countries such as St Kitts and Neavis in the Caribbean are poor, but they are not breeding grounds for terrorism. The people who participate in these recent terrorist acts often come from privileged backgrounds and tend to be well-educated. As for claims that money was sent to improve broadband connections and similar claims, I recommend that people making such claims check their sources. As for commuting, no way!

    Report this comment

    Suffolk Exile

    Thursday, January 5, 2017

  • What the tories would like to do is to remove all subsidies, last year it cost the government £4billion to subside the railway.... however that would mean an end to the hugely subsidised senior rail card , not a vote winner if that happened .The county council is already cutting back on subsidised bus services .Its up to voters to back either subsidised services or we all pay the full cost on everything . It wouldn't make any difference to me as I pay full price now however I doubt any government would risk upsetting the grey vote but it's OK to hit the hard working traveller who has to take longer rail journeys as they cannot afford London house prices .

    Report this comment

    deeber

    Thursday, January 5, 2017

  • I should have mentioned that the Indian government heavily subsidise rail travel into (for example) Mumbai. They do this support all the industry and other work that is there. It's viewed as a national investment. This would argue for the first of your statements. In practical terms very few can afford housing in London so commuting becomes an expensive, painful necessity. There doesn't seem to be that much (enough?) progress in moving to home working (or a coworking space).

    Report this comment

    Jimbo

    Thursday, January 5, 2017

  • Perhaps we need to consider two pairs of questions. 1. Is travelling by rail a consumer choice or does it contribute to the national good? If the former, then passengers should pay the full cost of their travel; if the latter than it should be heavily subsidised out of the public purse. 2. Do long-distance commuters choose to do so or are they forced to do so? That's a harder one to answer - but London house prices (in an unfettered market which believes that high property values must be good for the economy) leaves many people with no real option. Add to all that the facts that the present structure of the rail industry is unwieldy and expensive, and that shareholders have to take their profits, and you have the recipe for high fares and poor service.

    Report this comment

    Baptist Trainfan

    Thursday, January 5, 2017

  • I've never understood the finances of the privatised railway. The rail operators pay the government large sums for the right to make money out of rail users. Does the 30% of government funding come out of these fees or does the government plough this money AND a further 30% subsidy into the system or is the user actually paying more than 70%?

    Report this comment

    amsterdam81

    Thursday, January 5, 2017

  • We use face-to-face meetings for inter-company meetings and (especially) conferences. For example I'm off to Brussels for a huge shindig at ULB in February. I'm also back in Belgium for a smaller conference in Gent in March and then off to Madrid in June (I might be presenting at one or both of those). I've always found the train services from Eurostar and the Belgium, Dutch and Spanish rail systems very well run. A friend in Belgium was astonished when I mentioned that there was no train service inbetween Norwich and London between Christmas and the New Year. It would be inconceivable there — “you can't offline national infrastructure!” The Spanish subsidise less per passenger Km than the UK, the Germans more and the Belgium government more than that. It's important as it provides vital infrastructure for that country and a lack of it causes serious economic issue. My nearest work colleague is in Germany with the rest strewn all over the world so we use Internet-based communication all the time (which is why I'm still in Ipswich, or indeed the UK). I wouldn't consider commuting to London, working from home for me!

    Report this comment

    Jimbo

    Thursday, January 5, 2017

  • Continental railways are far more heavily subsidised that the British ones are so of course there are cheaper and it is that kind of extravagance with public money that is leading to the bankruptcy of so many European economies. Also, it is only the main lines in France that have a better service than us Brits. The provincial ones are much worse, or so said the man on the radio. Business travel? What need in the modern age. 25 years ago we were having daily comms meetings with our american cousins to take the overnight handover. At the time it was via a squawk box in the middle of the table By the time I finished, it was fully multi-point multi-media comms with HD TV screens. Can't think that many meetings absolutely require face-to-face contact these days. It's all about commuting.

    Report this comment

    Gobby

    Thursday, January 5, 2017

  • There are two issues here. Firstly the service is far more expensive than similar ones on continental Europe. Secondly they're far less reliable than their continental equivalents. This is due to a combination of both Greater Anglia and Network Rail. The end result of this is to make East Anglia less attractive for business when compared with other parts of Europe. The lack of a service at weekends also seriously affects business travel. For example it took longer to get from London to Ipswich than from Zagreb to London!

    Report this comment

    Jimbo

    Thursday, January 5, 2017

  • So Mr Geater thinks those who use services should pay for them? I look forward to the expansion of recycling facilities across Suffolk funded by Archant, ready to take all the unread Stars, Anglian and Advertisers full of rubbish!

    Report this comment

    swatts

    Thursday, January 5, 2017

  • Good to note that "extreme poverty creates a breeding ground for terrorism"... but that is often in countries such as those identified) to which we (UK Taxpayers) send £millions of aid ..and they still have no food but everyone's got an AK 47... No wonder "creates a breeding ground for terrorism"

    Report this comment

    ChelmaCommuta

    Thursday, January 5, 2017

  • Good to note that "extreme poverty creates a breeding ground for terrorism"... but that is often in countries such as those identified) to which we (UK Taxpayers) send £millions of aid ..and they still have no food but everyone's got an AK 47... No wonder "creates a breeding ground for terrorism"

    Report this comment

    ChelmaCommuta

    Thursday, January 5, 2017

  • Blimey, I completely agree with Mr Ipswich on this one!! Wonders will never cease. Completely wrong for the taxpayer to subsidise long distance commuting and I hope, and believe it is planned, for the 30% taxpayer subsidy to disappear completely over time. long distance commuting leads to house price inflation in the commuter towns as well as turning them into ghost towns without a soul or culture, as Chelmsford has become. If you want to live 100miles from your place of work then you pay for the travelling costs. Still can't get over the fact that I am agreeing with Paul Geater, the uncomfortable feeling will last all day I'm sure. Talk about cognitive dissonance.

    Report this comment

    Gobby

    Thursday, January 5, 2017

  • All the major services privatised in this country have been a failure , that includes parts of the NHS and care services . Mr Geater who pays the subsidy for pensioners who use public transport ? Councils , so that checkout girl you mentioned already pays extra tax for some very wealthy pensioners who get a subsidised bus ticket ! Public transport should be subsidised as some people rely on trains as the only way to get about . The trains in this country are a complete rip off as in many other countries fares are ten times cheaper.

    Report this comment

    deeber

    Thursday, January 5, 2017

  • It is so much easier just to sit on your bottom and write rubbish..

    Report this comment

    Barnacle

    Thursday, January 5, 2017

  • Regarding the aid money , the trouble with aid money is most of it gets lost in admin . If we sent tents , medical supplies or other vital equipment abroad instead of money then fine. But when I read this week that millions of aid money was sent to an island to improve its broadband then I question the WHOLE system .

    Report this comment

    Macke

    Thursday, January 5, 2017

  • Geater, profits of £22m after tax on £658m turnover isn't too bad. The service provided by Greater Anglia would make many assume the company was struggling to break-even or running at a loss. They boast £149m in cash and £230m of assets,

    Report this comment

    Ipswich Entrepreneur

    Thursday, January 5, 2017

  • Oh, Geats, you old scamp! I can't wait to check back at lunchtime and scroll through the comments on this one. Good work! Take the rest of the day off.

    Report this comment

    Shane Kirk

    Thursday, January 5, 2017

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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