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Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The Railways and the Comprehensive Spending Review

This afternoon I listened to a Comprehensive Spending Review which I despised. Naturally, transport was the one area of government expenditure that I was keeping an eye out for. My honest opinion is that things could have been much worse for the railways. Just to clarify, I’m not saying that I liked what was announced, it was just that with all the hype that preceded the CSR I felt that transport, and more specifically the railways, were going to be clobbered to a much greater extent.

Firstly, some transport policies that I like, such as the building of Britain’s second high speed rail link, tube upgrades and the completion of Crossrail to improve London’s transport network, will go ahead. Indeed, after the Department of Defence, the Department for Transport has received the highest capital funding of £33 billion over the next three years. Although, we shouldn’t get too excited; the electrification of the Midland and Great Western main lines, and the replacement of Britain’s High Speed Trains through the Intercity Express Programme, were conspicuously not mentioned. Overall, we’ll all find out the details of the capital expenditure next week when the Secretary of State for Transport, Philip Hammond, will make announcements regarding where the investments will actually be. Subsequently, at this stage no planned investment can be guaranteed to progress as expected (if at all).

Yet, the most definite policy that was announced with regard to the railways was that from 2012 regulated fares, which include savers and season tickets, will rise for three years at the rate of RPI+3%, whereas currently they rise at a rate of RPI+1%. Richard Hebditch, the Campaign for Better Transport’s campaign director, estimated (via the medium of Twitter that based on the government’s own estimations of the level of RPI and inflation over the course of this parliament, the rise in fares would be 31% overall. This is horrible and will hit commuters hard, especially in areas where there aren’t good tube links. While many will be able to absorb the increased transport costs into their household budgets, a great number will not.

I am a firm believer in the concept of transport poverty; the idea that the prohibitive cost of rail travel limits job opportunities for many people, keeping the standards of living down for them and their families. If the cost of travelling to higher paid employment wipes out any potential increases in people’s pay packet, then they simply won’t apply for those jobs. Further, if people don’t use the railways to travel longer distances to work, their employment opportunities in an area are limited as car commutes are generally shorter than rail ones. Lastly, if the up-front costs of season tickets are too high, so as to wipe out a person’s salary for a month or two, this will also limit where individuals look for work as they will be unwilling to make the initial commitment of funds.

Thus, in terms of transport policy all this CSR will serve to do is further hurt the poorest in society by limiting their opportunities to travel to better paid employment. Further, it will solidify a divide between the ’transport rich’ and the ‘transport poor.’

1 comment:

  1. Well at least tube refurbishments are safe, and investment in regional rapid transit also seems to be safe. But I agree that pumping up train fares, particularly without rethinking the constrictive structure of the industry, seems unfair on commuters. I broadly agree that rail passengers should bear the burden of running the system - but they shouldn't be paying extra taxes through their train fares. At least, rural lines seem safe for now...I had feared this spending review could mean a second Beeching, with much of the former Regional Railways network under threat. So some victory there - till next week, at least!


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