Friday, February 20, 2009

Bring rail fares into line with those on the continent

The Post today reports that, 'Train fares in Britain cost at least 50 per cent more than on the Continent because of the way they are subsidised.

In France and Germany, the cost of rail services is regarded in the same way as roads – the cost falls mostly on the taxpayer.

But in Britain, there is a general principle that rail passengers should foot the bill for our trains.'

The Labour Govt are content with the highest rail fares in Europe. The Conservatives presided over very high rail fares last time they were in power. The Liberal Democrats Norman Baker called for a rail fare freeze - at what is currently the highest level in Europe!!

We need much better than this to get a decent, more affordable rail service.

The Greens have committed to spending the £500m a year necessary to bring UK rail fares in line with those on the continent. This is completely affordable given that we spend three times this on road building, widening and so on!

£500m more for rail is money very well spent for me!


  1. Glenn, I know we've been here before, but can you please remind me why the poorest members of society, who rarely travel anywhere at all, should have to pay extra tax to subsidise the wealthiest members of society who undertake the most train travel?

  2. In my view the poorest members of society should not be paying any tax at all Chris!! We should be taxing the richest people more than we do.

    I'm in any case suggesting in this instance that the Govt could transfer money already being spent on roads and put it into rail...No extra taxation for anyone.

    I see a general point behind your question though...

    There are people who dont use a service who are paying taxes towards it eg childless people paying for schools, non-drivers paying for roads, those who compost all their food waste paying for Bristol's Brown bin system, or even pacifists paying for armed forces...This happens because we see a common good (education, access, recycling, security/defence...)and feel that we all have a stake in society.

    Its for the common good to financially favour greener modes of transport eg trains over planes and cars. We all have a stake in the atmosphere and the land which is heavily impacted by car and air travel.

  3. Any subsidy of rail, irrespective of where it might have been "transferred" from, is an additional burden on the tax payer which need not arise, so in that sense is "extra" - over and above what the basic level of taxation that is required.

    Of course I'm equally against subsidies of road transport or car ownership, so let's eradicate all subsidies and create a level playing field, rather than shifting subsidies around to try to balance them out. All that achieves is to subsidise motorised transport in general, which is hardly a "green" objective.

    The reality is that some of the poorest members of society, at least those that try to pay their own way rather than expect the state to support them, pay a disproportionate amount of tax, in terms of the percentage of their disposable income. They are the ones who probably can't afford to travel much, at least not by relatively expensive trains, yet they are the ones who you think should subsidise the high-end rail travel requirements of the wealthy.

    You say if it's right for non train users to have to subsidise train users because there is a "common good". So what is this common good? If my rich friends swan off to St Ives for a long week-end by train, and I, who cannot afford such indulgences, have to pay a share of the price of their tickets through taxation, what benefit do I and others like me get? The only "benefit" I can think of is to have to listen to them crowing about what a great time they had staying in a posh hotel with sea views and how reasonable the train fares were, thanks to my tax subsidy (which renders me too impoverished ever to visit St Ives), and at how wonderful it was of them to go by train rather than drive or fly.

    If you are concerned that they might otherwise drive a car, so what? They wouldn't be able to travel as far in the same time and their CO2 emissions would probably be less, so my subsidy encourages them to make longer, more polluting journeys.

    As for the air travel option, if such travel is so environmentally damaging why don't you tax that instead of people like me who rarely travel anywhere?

    Really I despair at the woolly, half-baked thinking of most Greens. There's too much at stake to indulge in such economically illiterate nonsense. Let's tax pollution, not subsidise it because it's notionally less bad than it would be if it was worse.

  4. Chris - You seem to have ignored the fact that I said the poorest members of society should be paying no tax at all - and that we should be taxing the richest people more than we do.

    You know very well that if Greens were in a position to make this decision on rail subsidy they would also be in a position to make a whole range of other decisions, such as changes in income taxation.

    There's a lot of adversarial rhetoric in your post Chris - especially about the common good, which I explained in relation to rail subsidy in my reply to your first comment. You again seem to have ignored what I said.

    Your points about car and air travel are both spurious. Many journeys currently made by car could and should be made by train. Many plane journey's now made could and should be transferred to train. Govt should ensure that prices reflect the total costs of each trnapsort mode and they are currently upside down! Rail should be cheaper relative to car and air travel as its environmental impacts are lower.

    You know very well that Greens would increase the cost of air travel by eg taxing its fuel, using VAT and ending subsidies - in fact there are recent entries on this blog about it and about the cost of rail travel.

    I fear that you totally rule out subsidy as a concept on ideological grounds rather than on practical grounds. For me subsidy is just another economic tool that can be employed as/when appropriate.

    Isn't it the 'free market' thinking and practice that you advocate that is now discredited?? Just look where it has brought us!! We have deep economic woe that could have been avoided/minimised with better market regulation and environmental crisis which is at least in part down to the fact that 'free markets' have made high impact flying cheaper than lower impact rail travel! Its not 'economically illiterate' (as you put it) Greens who have made a total mess of our economy and ecology is it!!

  5. "Chris - You seem to have ignored the fact that I said the poorest members of society should be paying no tax at all - and that we should be taxing the richest people more than we do."

    But every pound you propose to spend on rail subsidies (or anything else) is a pound that has to be raised from taxation. And the more you propose to tax us the more the tax burden impacts on the poorest.

    Don't imagine that taxing the rich even more is a solution either. Firstly there aren't that many of them and secondly they often have the option of avoiding UK taxation by basing themselves offshore and flying in.

    You can't have it both ways. If you want to reduce the burden of taxation then you have to reduce public expenditure.

  6. Chris - money used to subsidise rail wont come from the income of the poorest if they are not taxed on it!

    The burden of taxation needs to shift towards the richer people in society. Personnally I'd like to see those earning say £18,000 paying zero income tax and more tax bands introduced for those earning £60,000, £80,000 and £100,000+.

    Judgements on how many of us are rich depends on your definition of rich Chris.It depends on the standards/criteria applied. You seem to be fixing the tag 'rich' at a higher income level than me.

    I personally would not have reducing the overall 'burden' of taxation as a political aim in the short or medium term. Its justice that should come first!

    I'm in favour of removing or cutting the taxes for those on the low incomes and on products/services that are green/er. I want to implement and/or raise taxation for those on high incomes and on products/services that are least green. For me this is social and ecological justice.


Genuine, open, reasonable debate is most welcome. Comments that meet this test will always be published.