Yesterday saw a national day of action by transport unions and passengers to protest fair hikes and service cuts across the railways. I salute them. British train passengers already pay among the highest fares in Europe for train travel and now the government has announced that train operating companies will be able to increase rail fares by three per cent more than inflation.
For the last two weeks we have seen government figures in Westminster and London figures basking in the borrowed glory of the Olympics that their Labour predecessors secured for city and the country.
One tangible related benefit of that much touted but hardly touched Olympic Legacy has been the development of transport links across the previously cut off poor areas of East London – and on its way is the Crossrail link which ties in the area to the greater region.
And now it is back to dismal normality with the announcement of 11% rail fare rises. We will indeed be better linked to the rest of the Capital and the world. But far too many of our citizens will not be able to afford the tickets.
It is going to mean price hikes on rush hour travel, season tickets and on off-peak fares on the majority of intercity journeys. Passengers will get worse quality and less safe service for their higher fares.
This is all a direct result of rail privatisation. As we saw with the spectacular failure of G4S Security, the conservative idea of so called “private enterprise” is to take national and civic assets, milk them with subsidies, dividends and bonuses, and then call upon the public sector to rescue them from the consequences of greed and imcompetence. One study “Rebuilding Rail, Transport for Quality of Life” shows that rail privatisation costs over than £1bn a year.
During the Olympics, we saw that the rail infrastructure was already running close to capacity. But despite that the success of Ken’s policies, like the Oyster Card, the bicycle lanes and the congestion charges had kept people off the roads and carbon dioxide out of the air.
We need more investment in public transport, cheaper fares to coax more passengers out of cars – and less money for bonuses. As the RMT’s Bob Crowe says “The campaign to Bring Back British Rail is an idea whose time has come.”