Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Commuters pay the price

Record numbers of workers apparently stayed away from work yesterday. Perhaps they were trying to avoid the massive increases in the cost of transport that would actually get them to work. Not only do the above-inflation rail fare rises – some have gone up by 8.4% - act as a pay cut for commuters who have no choice but to fork out to get to work, they are also an incentive for other passengers to abandon trains in favour of cars and planes. More planes and cars equals more carbon dioxide equals more global warming. Where is the logic in all this, you may ask? Unfortunately there is one – the logic of market capitalism, with its market "solutions" that actually make matters worse. Unless, of course, you are a trader in carbon emissions, in which case the more CO2 the merrier. Under these circumstances, individuals have to make the difficult choices while the New Labour government abandons responsibility for tackling climate change. For example, if you needed to get from London to Manchester and back tomorrow, leaving around 8am, the choice is between a train journey lasting two and a half hours costing £219 and a plane fare of £223, which takes only 55 minutes. Or you might just get into your car and drive, leading Jason Torrance, campaigns director of the Transport 2000 pressure group, to say that the rail price rises flew in the face of "the government's rhetoric about climate change". In London, the rhetoric belongs to the Mayor, Ken Livingstone. When the Tube system was part-privatised, Livingstone fought the New Labour government until he was forced to concede. The private-sector consortia were handed lucrative contracts in return for a programme of investment in the system. Then two years ago, the Mayor agreed with the government that commuters had to foot part of the bill for new investment. So fares have soared as a result. A single Tube journey in the inner zone now costs an exorbitant £4 and a bus journey costs a flat £2. Many Londoners have electronic cards that are cheaper to use, so the rises hit visitors to London, occasional users and commuters who start their journey by train. Making London the most expensive city in the world for travel is a great encouragement for the 2012 Olympics! Behind this disaster for commuters and other passengers is New Labour’s infatuation with markets and its hostility to dedicated public services. When the previous Tory government privatised the rail network, New Labour condemned the move. When New Labour came to office, the policy was switched. Now the government gives the rail companies £5 billion a year in subsidies and allows fares to soar because that is what the market dictates. Even other capitalist countries have worked out that a decent public transport system is essential and fares have to stay affordable. The TSSA union compared the £219 London to Manchester (200 miles) fare with the £34.50 it costs to travel from Paris to Calais at any time. Travelling from Madrid to Barcelona (387 miles) or from Berlin to Bonn, (365 miles) costs just £63 in each case. It would be nice to take advantage of these comparatively low fares. Unfortunately, a Eurostar train for the 209 miles between London and Paris, leaving tomorrow and returning Saturday, will cost you a mere £309. There's no cheap escape from Blair's Britain!

Paul Feldman, communications editor

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Any discouragement towards the 2012 Olympics would be fine by me! However the price fare hikes to be borne by us everyday commuters are very dispiriting and will ultimately discourage the use of public transport even further for those who have alternative means of getting about, leading to the increase in pollution and gas emissions described here. Meantime Blair means to press ahead with a £25 billion investment in updating the Trident "defence" system, like we really need all this defence! To how much better use could these billions be put, including heavily subsidising transport facilities. Topsy-turvy priorities, but how long has it been since we expected anything else? But then capitalism is a topsy-turvy and chaotic system although seeming to possess every semblance of hard-headed common sense and rationality such that it has come to seem as if there can be no alternative to markets. Obviously there is an alternative but it takes some determination and courage to voice it and still more to do something about it. To start with why can't there be some kind of general commuter strike? People en masse simply refusing to pay or to use their oyster cards for example. The cooperation of transport workers would be necessary for this to work, if that is they could see that ultimately this kind of action would benefit everyone, less stress for them, fewer people travelling without paying thereby causing contention and so on. (They presumably have subsidised travel themsleves.)
Things cannot continue like this for long, enough people will eventually be pushed to the limit and then just maybe instead of grumbling and putting up, actually do something constructive.