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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Why should the Government have to pay half my train fare?

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The news is full of the latest increase in rail fares. With the rate of inflation declared at 3.2 per cent, fares are set to rise by 6.2 per cent in England in January 2013.

The screams of indignation from commuters and regular travellers can be heard for miles. Comparisons are made with fares on the continent. Some claim that privatisation is the root of it all, and that the Fat Cat bosses are taking all the cream.

But let’s look at facts, and reality, and fairness.

Railways are expensive to maintain.  The civil engineering infrastructure was built 150 years ago, using techniques thought to be highly advanced at the time but woefully outdated now. Bridges have to be replaced, track maintained and drainage rebuilt (especially after the latest British Summer).  Some of the trains themselves were built 30 years ago, and they need replacing – not just for comfort but because they are very inefficient in terms of energy consumption.

And comparing British railways with continental ones is not sensible either. Bridges in Germany cost as much to replace as British ones, French trains are not particularly cheaper to buy, and track is expensive to maintain wherever you are.

So just because other people choose to go to work not by car but by train, why should they expect the government to pay half the cost?

So not only does someone have to pay the day-to-day running costs of the railways, but the maintenance and rebuild costs as well.

And who should pay that?

I live in Leicestershire, a 15-minute drive from work. I have bought my own car, I pay for road tax and insurance, and I pay for the petrol that goes into it.

There is no way that I would expect the government to pay for half my petrol. Why should they?

So just because other people choose to go to work not by car but by train, why should they expect the government to pay half the cost? Is it reasonable?  Is it even fair – particularly on people like me who don’t get a subsidy?

Similarly, if I go to London, I can drive down.  That costs me more petrol, tyre wear and other running costs.  If I decide to go by train instead I can read a book or do some work rather than having to concentrate on my driving. That’s fair enough – but should I then expect the government, or more accurately you – the taxpayer, to pay for half my fare?

It’s a question of choice. People commuting long distances choose to do so.  They chose a particular job because it pays better, or is more readily available, than one around the corner. Or they may have chosen to move to their current location because it is more pleasant than living close to work. That’s all fair enough. After all, I chose to live where I do, and to work eight miles away.

But having chosen to do that, why do these commuters think that I, or you, should pay them to travel to work?  They don’t pay me to do it – so is it fair that I should pay them?

Of course it isn’t.  They chose to live where they do, and work where they do, so they have to face the cost of that decision. Don’t ask me to pay for their commuting – I’m too busy paying for my own.

From an industry commentator


  1. Your view is grossly misguided and ill informed, while
    showing a typically selfish attitude towards society. The vast majority of
    residents in this country would regard a safe, efficient and affordable public
    transport system as a key provision and responsibility for the government in
    the same way as healthcare, education and defence. The fundamental nature of a
    rail network means it cannot be run in the private sector as the failure of
    Rail track demonstrated. Some of the most advanced societies in the world such
    as many of the Scandinavian countries understood long ago that support and
    investment in good quality public transports is essential for a good quality of
    life and socially responsible government. The taxpayer has funded the road
    network in this country, with the odd exception such as the M6 toll road in
    Birmingham. So you suggestion that rail passengers get it easily is false. The
    taxpayer pays for the road network not the motorist, they are being subsidised.
    The current Conservative policy of reducing the split from 50-50 to 80-20 in
    favour of the fair payer for the railway is short sighted and shows the same
    ignorance employed during the Beeching cuts regarding railway economics.

    You comments regarding a direct comparison to Europe is also
    misguided. How can you possibility compare a rail network build between 1840-80
    and slowly modernised to the European networks built post war to a much higher
    technical standard? This continued ignorance over comparisons between road and
    rail by conservative car drivers is infuriating. As a society we have tried
    predict and provide and it hasn’t worked. The provision of a comprehensive,
    affordable and efficient rail network is of fundamental importance to a
    successful, carbon free society. This is something the government should be
    right at the centre of in terms of funding along with the fair payer.

  2. I don’t think the author understands the concept of a subsidy. Furthermore the Vehicle Excise Duty is a nonsense. People are paying more to access the Internet per month than use the roads. People are subsidising the roads in the UK, yet government conceal this by calling it ‘Investment”.

  3. This article is fundamentally flawed. I, and the rest of the UK taxpayers, are paying for the author’s commuting, because the vehicle excise duty he pays (and mistakenly calls ‘road tax’) does not even come close to covering the cost of building and maintaining the UK’s roads. So why should I be subsidising the infrastructure that he uses? I don’t see the railways as being any different.

  4. Poor article based on a weak understanding of how transport works and the basis of how it is funded in this country.

    Railways ARE more expensive to run in this country than comparably elsewhere. This has been outlined in the McNulty report, surely required reading for someone writing an Op-Ed piece for this website.

    It would also be worth reading up on economic externalities whilst you are at it. Many would argue that you are not paying the full cost to society for your car journey, whilst it is equally plausible that London’s economy would not be sustainable without the number of long distance commuters that ply in and out of its subsidised rail terminals each day.

  5. Simple. The govenrment should pay because the government has persisted with the flawed rail industry structure (introduced by a previous Conservative regieme and perpetuated by Labour – despite promises to re-nationalise) with its inbuilt inefficiences, need for everyone to skim a profit out and fat cat bonuses. The government has largely ignored McNulty (in some ways not such a bad idea) and we have all forgotten that when the railways were in national ownership run by customer focused BR business sectors InterCity services made a profit, Network South East services covered their operational costs and Regional Railways requried what now seems a tiny subsidy to provide socially necessary train services in rural areas.

  6. Well lets get things in to perspective here. In the defence of the UK railway system. Yes its out dated but we subsidise rail fares by 50%, in europe its 75%. Your still paying roughly the same its just more of the fare in europe is hidden through taxation. As we know, tax and debt is higher over therefor reasons like this. Naturally the person traveling should be asked to pay his fair shareof the ticket. This idea that its the governments responsibility is insane.
    Lets not forget thateven though our infastructure is dated and old, we still have the most frequent trains which run earlier and later than any other country.


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