Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Rail Fare Idiocy

From the Independent:

Over the past few days I have had random conversations with friends and colleagues whose lives are far removed from those dependent on food banks. I am struck by  how often the price of services or vital goods came up.

A well-off friend told me that she and her husband went to Devon for the weekend, had wanted to take the train and were deterred by the cost of more than £300. They were going to face the insane traffic jams instead. On the same day, I bumped into an old friend who now commutes from the Chilterns. He told me the train fares were preposterous. He had tried to make use of off-peak fares, but the  rail company had changed the definition of off-peak, making it impossible.

If you're living in London, rents are high. A way around that is travelling to and from London by train from outside. Of course, once everyone catches onto that, lots of people will do it to save on rents, and eventually the train fares will soak up most of the savings. The train companies will try and get as much as they can from passengers (and there's no better form of rationing than price, and in my experience, rail companies are pretty good at pricing).

I live an hour out of London and if you look at the fares around here, they really aren't that expensive. Torquay for me would cost £55 return. Get a Two Together Railcard, and it's about £75 for 2 of us. Compared to a 135 mile journey each way with £50~ in petrol, I think it's reasonably competitive. I'm sure the rail company is making a little money on it, but they can't make as much because there's not as much demand on my route.

BTW I looked up how much a return TGV train from Paris to Bordeaux cost on a Friday night, and it's £155. In case anyone tells you that French trains cost the same as a bag of croissants.
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MW adds, re: "... lots of people will do it to save on rents, and eventually the train fares will soak up most of the savings."

Either that, or, if rail fares are capped, rents in outlying town will rise to soak up the saving i.e. the cast iron formula is: rent in London = rent in outlying town + cost of commute (cash cost and time cost).

6 comments:

Lola said...

I can get an off peak 1st class return (admittedly using my over 60's card) from Ipswich to London Liverpool Street for about £27.00 - best. It's a one hour twelve minute journey time.

That's not bad at all.

DBC Reed said...

@TS I found the complicating factor when I was living in Camden, Brighton and other town centres was I didn't need a car (or could get by without one).Living on estates or in suburbs you need a car for supermarket shopping and to reach schools which thanks to the "choice" system can be miles away.You can end up getting to work on foot or on public transport but still running a car .

Bayard said...

"A well-off friend told me that she and her husband went to Devon for the weekend, had wanted to take the train and were deterred by the cost of more than £300."

When I lived in London, I regularly used to go down to Somerset for the weekend to visit my parents and the cost was much less than driving, never mind the hassle of trying to get out of London at the weekend. It's probably three times the price now (£58), but still a lot less than £150. This compares to a fuel cost as calculated by Google of £54. Of course, if two people are travelling together, private transport will always be cheaper.

The Stigler said...

Lola,

Sounds good. I've looked at how much it'd cost me to go and see things in London (like opera). Off peak and in advance, it's about £35 return. I can't park and do petrol for that.

DBC,

It's about choices people make. Families generally live in suburban places, and owning and running a car makes sense if you're a family. Cities don't so much suit families. If you go to some of the sleepy towns down in Wiltshire, they still have quite a lot of small shops because they have a lot of retired people in them who don't want a car, want small amounts of shopping and so forth.

Bayard,
There's often higher variations for other reasons. If you take mainline routes, you pay a lot more than taking slower routes.

The Stigler said...

just to add... I agree with Mark's extra comment. It's why I'm against uncapped fares - let the rail companies set a market rate, and let the government, as the owner of the franchises, take it from them.

john b said...

The couple considering Devon and being quoted gbp150 each will have been looking at walk-up fares on a 5:30pm train out of Paddington, which unsurprisingly is entirely full.

If they'd considered:
a) knocking off work earlier
b) hanging around in London for longer and arriving the same time they'd arrive by car
c) getting the slow train out of Waterloo and arriving the same time they'd arrive by car
d) booking in advance
- then they'd have been fine.

FWIW I think the way in which the government holds down the price of off-peak walk-up tickets on intercity routes is fair enough: rather like rolling up LVT until the widow is dead, it means that the "I had to pay gbp300 to go to my granny's funeral" line can't be used.

Holding down the price of commuter seasons is insane logic, though.