Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 3rd January 2018

Happy New Year to you all. At this time of year it’s traditional for people to set New Year’s resolutions for themselves in an attempt to change past patterns of bad behaviour. Unfortunately, as commuters return to work this week, the only tradition the rail companies will be following is the annual rise in rail fares, with an average increase this year of 3.4% nationally.

Few people now remember the Conservatives’ commitment at the 2015 General Election to freeze rail fares for five years, unsurprisingly fares have risen in every one of the years which have followed. While we often discuss the cost of housing in the area and the impact that has on household budgets, having been a regular commuter I’m very aware that the cost of a season ticket can be the next biggest single source of expense over the course of a year.

Season ticket sales have faced a significant decline of late, indicating a potential retreat from rail usage as rising fares make train travel increasingly unaffordable. This isn’t simply a problem for rail users or the important environmental role public transport plays in limiting carbon emissions. If commuters ditch trains in favour of cars, then our overstretched highway and parking infrastructure won’t be able to meet the demands of all the new and existing users. We will all end up suffering.

Yet, while the Government claims the fare rises are necessary to pay for infrastructure, they’re sacrificing millions of pounds of public money in order to bailout failing private railway franchises.

It doesn’t have to be this way. If we treated public transport as an important part of our national infrastructure and a public service, then we could design a system which works to meet the needs of rail users rather than subsidising private sector failure. It’s time the railways were brought back into public ownership and run for the common good. This can need not even be an expensive endeavour, all we need to is allow the current franchises to lapse and as they do reassemble a national service the public can rely upon.

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