No, they’re lying

Rail users in Britain are paying 50 per cent more per mile than throughout most of Europe, a new survey has revealed.
According to researchers, travellers in Britain pay on average 50p per mile compared with just 5p in Latvia.
Austrian train users pay on average 33p with those in France, Holland and Switzerland paying between 28p-31p.

That’s true.

Chris Johnson, head of operations at Vouchercloud said: ‘An average price increase of 3.4 per cent across the rail network is not a huge amount in and of itself.
‘However, when we actually have numbers that show our train prices are already the most expensive across the whole of Europe on a consistent basis, it tells a whole different story.
‘The very least we can expect is an improvement in service and reduction in delays and cancellations – and if that doesn’t happen again this year, then we’re justifiable in our complaints that a once proud, still hugely important transport network here in the UK is holding commuters hostage.’

And that’s lying.

The difference is not in the cost of the railways, it’s in who pays. Either the passengers or the general taxpayers are going to cough up. The British system has the passengers paying for (near) 100% of the operating costs, the European systems have the taxpayers carrying more of it. Myself I think that those who travel should pay to travel, something that of course is open to disagreement. But the move from “passengers pay more” to “the railways are more expensive” is lying.

22 comments on “No, they’re lying

  1. He does say rail users pay more than their counterparts.

    I’ve no idea why I should be subsiding firms and workers who want to be in London. Let them bear the true cost and we might get some of them moving out to other cities and towns.

  2. I haven’t looked at the data in his article Tim, but iirc there is another factor which is the number of trains per hour on a route – more trains mean higher cost / pppm, but also better service for the passenger. The UK (again iirc) scores at the top end of frequency, and as that is adjusted for their costs look more reasonable.

  3. Nothing to do with cost: train companies treat their passengers like dirt. I have sat in “quiet” carriages where rail personnel have chosen to sit, bellow at each other and their mobile phones; fare regimes are tricksy, not available on machines and fines punitive for those who find themselves on the wrong train for whatever reason; Southern recently made planning one’s movements impossible. If they delivered SNCF service I’d happily pay more but pay to be abused grates.

  4. I went by rail from Bordeaux to Lourdes this summer and back again after a week. “Wow” said all the others in my group. “We should have a service this good and this cheap. Why can’t we?”

    During the week though we needed to call an ambulance to take someone to Lourdes Hospital, where they stayed for 3 nights. €160 for the ambulance, €900 for the hospital. “What would you rather spent taxpayer’s money on?” I asked “cheap trains or ambulances?”

    Answers there were none.

  5. There’s a feature of the socialist mind I can’t get my head round. Foreign trains are cheaper, I’ll observe that, but won’t observe the higher State subsidy. I’ll observe that Social housing incurs slightly less cost per unit of the Housing Benefit bill compared to private rentals, but won’t notice the council tax exemptions while empty, cost of finding tenants, and the build subsidies.

  6. OT but not by much

    Bristol >> Glasgow today

    Rail £156 single 6 hours
    EasyJet £65 1.25 hours

    I have had the “no notice” EasyJet as low as £27.

  7. Ironman: health insurance pays for both. I’m sure the “free ambulance “ in the UK costs the taxpayer extortionate amounts per patient compared with the French and is slower to respond and less reliable because there are too many smug NHS employees operating according to some baroque guideline script.

  8. Ljh,

    “Nothing to do with cost: train companies treat their passengers like dirt. I have sat in “quiet” carriages where rail personnel have chosen to sit, bellow at each other and their mobile phones; fare regimes are tricksy, not available on machines and fines punitive for those who find themselves on the wrong train for whatever reason; Southern recently made planning one’s movements impossible. If they delivered SNCF service I’d happily pay more but pay to be abused grates.”

    So stop using them. They’re shit because they’re shit and you keep paying. Why would anyone with such an operation do anything but remain shit?

    And most of the problem isn’t “train companies”. Rail is not really privatised. OK, technically it is, but so much of how they have to run is dictated by the state (e.g. whether they have e-tickets, what union rules apply, what trains they have, what types of tickets they must give) that the end result is little different to the state. A free market (rules only about externalities, companies supplying their own trains and staff, bidding on slots, deciding fares) it ain’t.

    I sometimes have to go to Oxford and I generally take the bus. it’s slightly slower, but quite a lot cheaper, but also, you breathe the air of free market capitalism rather than the stench of communism. I can buy a ticket at home on my phone and just flash the QR code, like a man in the 21st century. I’m sure that the railways had an army of highly paid people to come up with the spectacularly shitty version of this which was to buy a ticket on my phone, then turn up at the station to stand in a queue and type in a 16 digit code on a fucking touchscreen.

  9. I saw a good example of the State mentality of rail company staff the other day. My local station, an extremely busy one with 7.5m passenger journeys a year, has about seven ticket barriers. The staff had five closed, one open and the wider one, for luggage, etc, was open but deliberately blocked by a fat staff member. People were deliberately funnelled through the one barrier, long queues.

    When I (politely) asked why only one barrier was open, the fat one just went “la la la la” and stared into the distance. Seriously?

  10. ‘the 28% pay rise drivers and other staff have extorted on “safety” grounds’: my early industrial experience encouraged me to treat all trade union chatter about safety as being an attempt at extortion until proven otherwise. And that includes such chatter from junior doctors.

  11. Increasing train fares have nothing to do with the 28% pay rise drivers and other staff have extorted on “safety” grounds, I assume?

    I don’t think so, because what is called the “price rise cap” is, in fact, a guaranteed price rise every year by what is an effective monopoly provider.

    All that 28% or whatever it was means is that money will be diverted from running the trains or company profit and into the pockets of the staff. The customers were going to lose out regardless of how big a rise they cynically flushed out under the ruse of ‘safety’.

  12. Last Sunday, I went from Nantes to Angers by train (90km). The tickets cost €50 return (cheapest available on ‘walk up’) for the local train that takes 45 min each way. I wouldn’t call that enormously cheap, compared to UK prices.

    On the way back, there was an announcement that all trains to Paris were cancelled due signal failure at Montparnasse (the second time this year, the first one lasted several days at a station that’s roughly the French equivalent of Paddington). “Passengers should make alternative arrangements, where possible” end-of – in other words: You’re on your own chaps*. I think in the UK there would have been some sort of attempt at a replacement bus, but perhaps you get what you pay for.

    * Not the first time I’ve experienced this at the hands of SNCF, it’s noticeable that staff on the platforms tend to make themselves very scarce as soon as such problems arise.

  13. Chris Miller,

    I was in France with the family and looked up La Roche Sur Yon to Nantes and in total, it was going to be about £100. That’s probably more expensive than Swindon to Bristol (similar distance).

    Should we lower fares for full trains? Swindon to London is £120, but every seat is taken by Didcot. So the answer seems to be no.

  14. @Anon, December 10, 2017 at 2:02 pm

    I wonder how the total cost subsidy and passenger cost compares.

    Total cost of rail travel (Network Rail + Train journey) is ~50% train passenger, ~50% taxpayer
    vs
    Car, Plane etc is >100% passenger – passenger pays whole cost plus large taxes.

  15. @Pcar.

    I meant the total we in the UK pay through subsidy and fares and the total the French pay.
    Who pays more us or them in total?

  16. @tomo That’s regulatory crap, not profit taking.

    Trains aren’t allowed to discount tickets late, airlines are. So last-minute air tickets are (usually) cheaper than tickets bought a week before flying, while last-minute train tickets are more expensive.

    Last-minute air tickets are cheap because there’s a risk involved that the flight might be full, in which case you can’t fly at all (or very-nearly full, in which case they crank the price through the roof). Trains can’t sell out (regulators don’t allow that) so last-minute tickets have to have the price cranked up through the roof to discourage people waiting until the last minute.

    I am hoping that HS2 will be allowed to operate a proper pricing scheme with required-reservation for all journeys, and therefore the ability for a train to sell out completely. That would allow for last-minute discounts when there are spare seats left on a train.

    Note that train v plane at more than ~a week’s notice is very competitive. Look at London-Glasgow/Edinburgh for instance, where there are multiple train companies running different routes, multiple airlines, lots of passengers, and city-to-city journey times are pretty similar.

    Prices are obviously in direct competition and therefore very close until the point about a week before travel when the airlines start discounting tickets to fill up their planes and the train companies can’t.

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