The link between the cost of railways, taxpayer subsidy and what the passenger must pay has broken down.
By Simon Kirby
In a constituency like Brighton Kemptown and Peacehaven, commuting for many people is a way of life. Often people wish to live in a seaside or coastal location but have the opportunity to use their talents and skills to best advantage in their work elsewhere. Their work could be in London but also could be in Lewes, Eastbourne, Gatwick or Worthing.
That is why I have written to the transport secretary, following the recent announcement of increased rail fares. It is important to look after both the needs of the travelling public as well as ensuring that the taxpayer only carries a financial burden that is absolutely necessary.
New investment in the railways is very important. We do not want to go back to the old nationalised rail days where investment was poor and commuters had to deal with ancient rolling stock. I well remember the regular points failures, brake failures, trackside fires and all the other staples which plagued rail-travel life for people who simply wanted to get home after a hard day's work or an enjoyable day out.
However, for many who commute, there is no real option but to have to pay higher fares when new increases are announced because travelling to work, or using the trains for leisure, is really the only option available. Is it realistic for all the commuters who pack the trains, to drive to London on a daily basis? I don't think so. Petrol and parking costs alone are a deterrent, not forgetting the time factor. Equally, a constituent may think of driving to their job in a nearby town, but do we want to be encouraging yet more cars on already busy roads?
So in alleviating the burden on the taxpayer, railway decision makers also need to strike a fair balance that reflects the interests of the travelling public as well.
Part of the issue is the high cost of running Britain's railways, left behind by the previous government. That's why I am looking forward to the review of the railway system that the government has commissioned. I am hoping it will be able to help 'square the circle' of how we have landed ourselves with a railway where passengers often pay more than passengers overseas and the taxpayer also has higher costs than in other countries.
Suggesting palatable solutions for a problem which lies at the very heart of the railways will go a long way to restoring a sensible link between the cost of journeys, the fare a passenger must pay and the subsidy provided by the taxpayer.
To my mind, the railways have a great deal of goodwill from the British public and their potential for encouraging so-called 'modal shift' is significant. However, progress will not be made until the knotty issue of fares and subsidy can be realistically settled, once and for all, for the future.
Simon Kirby was elected Conservative MP for Brighton Kemptown in 2010.
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