A tilted playing field

Rail fares rise by an average of 6.2% but are still only covering half the cost of rail travel. The cost of an annual season ticket on the train from Oxford to London is £3880 (before the rise). By my calculaitons the government is providing a subsidy amounting to a further £3880 for this ticket.

Express coach is far cheaper and unlike trains gets very little subsidy. The cost of a season ticket on the same route is £1,200. Coach operators pay fuel tax (unlike buses) and receive no large subsidies (unlike trains) and indeed their taxes help support the rail system! The coach is slower – it is normally scheduled to take 2 hours as compared to 1 hour 10 minutes on the train due to having to compete with cars in congestion. They do however offer power sockets and free wifi increasing people’s options while traveling.

Congestion is a serious issue for express coach. This makes the removal of the M4 bus lane particularly troubling as the available official research documents show that the bus lane actually improved conditions for car drivers as well as for bus lane users. Unfortunately the FOI requests underpinning the removal of the bus lane have not been made available. The government is continuing to spend considerable sums building roads to create space for more vehicles even though it knows that this will fail to improve journey times without associated road user charging. Widening the M25 was compared to ‘digging a ditch in a bog’ by the project director of the Orbit report relating to the M25. He said: “Widening the M25 has been likened to digging a ditch in a bog – it fills up as fast as you dig” and that the widening should be accompanied by “area-wide road user charging in 2011”.

Motoring organisations  support general road user charging. The RAC Foundation says that road user charging is ‘inevitable’ as it “represents the only viable way of tackling congestion and curbing carbon emissions while also raising funds to maintain the road network”. It is therefore disappointing that the current government has pledged not to introduce any such charges in this parliament except for lorries.