/ Travel & Leisure

Rail fare rises are a blow to those feeling the squeeze

Ticket master on train

If you commute to work by train, were you stung by a price rise when renewing your season ticket? With the average price of an annual season ticket increasing by 3.1% you may feel that prices are going off the rails.

Last month our chief executive shared some tricks of the trade for finding the cheapest train tickets – from split tickets to buying singles rather than returns for some journeys.

One tweeter told us they’ve swapped train transport for walking to work as an extreme measure to cut back on travel costs:

Costly commuting lines

But there isn’t always a way round the rail networks. Only 30% of people are planning to spend less on transport in the next few months – which could be due to the inability to switch to another form of transport.

Our research showed that just three in ten(30%) trust the rail industry to act in their best interests – less than those who trust the banking industry (33%). And on average, households spend £530 a year on public transport with 30-49 year olds spending the most – £744 on average.

And only six in ten (59%) say they feel able to complain, which is one of the worst scores across all industries we looked at, with only trade services (53%) and long-term financial products (51%) scoring less.

Price increases result in better service?

Neal shared this tweet:

Perhaps the fare hikes would be easier to stomach if improved service and complaint resolution were part of the package? How are you dealing with the price hikes and have you found a way to tackle your travel costs?


” Our research showed that just three in ten(30%) trust the rail industry to act in their best interests -”

I am concerned that anybody feels that any company acts in the best interest of its passengers, subscribers, or customers. The best interest of a company is never likely to be that of its customers other than a short term coincidence of views.

Is it just me or is the question actually intellectually dishonest ?

Certainly we should rail at companies that are inefficient, sloppy, rude, pay obscene salaries, avoid taxes, and rig terms and conditions. To ask if they are run for their users benefits seems a bizarre assumption about how private enterprise works.

Agreed, dieseltaylor. Many conversations suggest that companies should act in the best interests of their customers, as if this is their overriding priority. They act in the best interests of their shareholders first – without shareholder investment the company will go out of business. However a key element of success is to provide a product or service that satisfies their customer base – without customers they will also go out of business. Just needs putting in context.

Railways are expensive to operate. For decades, little real money has been invested – mostly because of the daft privatisation introduced by Thatcher, which didn’t encourage long-term investment – in fact it positively discourage investment.

We need to ask two questions:

1. Should commuters’ rail fares be subsidised (tax breaks or government subsidies) or should the railways have to pay their own way as a commercial business rather than a vital service?

2. Are railways really the solution to commuting (really, who in 21st Century would design a form of transport that uses trains weighing 100s of tons with steel wheels running on fixed steel tracks)?

We need a 21st Century answer to the problems of twice daily mass commuting.

Phil says:
7 January 2014

The 21st century solution would be to work from home via an internet connection but it’s not possible for everybody.

There doesn’t seem to be any other transport solution that won’t require a massive investment in infrastructure which isn’t going to happen overnight or be cheap.

The government is contemplating spending upwards of £50B on HS2 for a handful of commuters in 2025. Does that seem a wise infrastructure investment?

Phil says:
7 January 2014

So replacing the 19th century railways with a 21st century transport alternative would cost how much and be ready when?

Dave says:
9 January 2014

Yes, yes it does.

No-one really knows how much it will cost, yet many are debunking the idea on cost grounds.

It is vital for future prosperity to enable more people to commute into the large cities. In other words, you can take HS2 from quite a way away, or you can get the local (victorian) lines which will have increased capacity once the express trains are moved onto the high speed line.

Whats not to like?

Terfar, re your point 2:
Who in their right mind would design a transport system where inept people can drive vehicles in opposite directions on a strip of wet tarmac with 6 feet (sorry, 2 metres) between them at a closing speed of 120 mph (190 km/h)?
Two 21st century solutions are to reduce the need for commuting by moving the concentration of jobs away from the overcongested cities and to stagger working hours.

So long as we decline to disperse jobs to provincial places, where less expensive housing might also be avaialable, we need to enable the metropolitan areas to function, so restraining the impact of home-to-work travel costs through government financial support is a justifiable use of public money, especially since there is no practicable [and lessexpensive] alternative means of transporting the numbers involved within the time available. In fact there is no more efficient, safe and environmentally acceptable way of moving large numbers of people than by train. Economical it is not, however, because of the massive capacity provision that has to stand idle for long periods each day and throughout weekends. This is not all bad though, because less intensive use of rolling stock does prolong its life although there is a limit to how far you can take this. Like motor cars, modern rail vehicles are generally superior and while the old bodywork might be capable of carrying on for a few more years the mechanicals and operating systems become increasingly prone to failure or even obsolete. As with new highways, as soon additional rail capacity is provided – longer trains, newer more reliable units, better signalling, electrification, flyovers and improved track, all leading to faster and more frequent services – it is taken up rapidly until saturation point is reached again. Expecting employers to relocate is probably unrealistic – people have generally organised most of their lives around a home they have chosen based on its convenience for the whole family taking into account schools, health services, work places and career prospects, and affordability. For one member of a household to change their workplace is difficult enough; to require a whole family to be uprooted is unreasonable. The government tried it in the 1970’s with a number of departments moving out of London to some of the northern cities; today’s conditions, attitudes and reasonable expectations are not conducive to such a wholesale change. So we are probably stuck with mass commuting and need to make it as bearable, affordable and efficient as we can. I am not a commuter but my perception is that performance, capacity, and overall efficiency of the system have improved in the last ten years but comfort and the cost have got worse; indeed some services appear to be outstandingly good these days but it is by no means universal and some have seen virtually no improvement for a very long time while journey times have lengthened and the trains themselves are creaking under the strain.

Scott says:
7 January 2014

Most lines are operated by a single company, so there’s no competition to help regulate prices and improve quality of service. They know that passengers have no other choice other than just not use the train which for most, is just not possible.

“Expecting employers to relocate is probably unrealistic” However not bringing more jobs into central locations and recruiting local staff rather than those who are offering to travel many miles might reduce the need for rail and road subsidies.

Which? said at the AGM that they would be putting more jobs into London with a new Mortgage Advice office. This seems daft as costs and salaries are 30% higher than other places in the UK. The reason of “you can get the right staff in London” rings hollow when I know for a fact that Lloyds used to have a dozen highly efficient 60 – man commercial business process centres scattered around the UK.

Seems a bit rich to highlight commuting costs as a problem when the organisation is actually complicit in the London-centric problem. Southampton, Exeter, Chester, Norwich, or Leicester are all viable – and I suspect many would be quite grateful to move from the South-East to a good job with a decent employer.

Couldn’t agree more – given the option, why use London as a base for new business? The government could give incentives for companies to move out. BBC moved to Salford. Mint moved to Wales. Those who have opted to work in London and commute no doubt did so understanding the financial consequences, and I for one would not be happy to subsidise their commute. I chose where to live but commuted by car to another town where I would not have wanted to live. We seem to focus on the plight of rail commuters forgetting other commuters have increasing fuel costs, parking charges, road congestion – join the club!

Is it not time to cut down the amount of travelling we do and get more people walking and cycling to work?

There are many complications, but the cost of public and private transport is hardly likely to go down in years to come.

Dave says:
9 January 2014

Wavechange, that is such a narrow-minded opinion.

Do you really think that it is possible for the majority of people to walk or cycle to work?

I’ll give you an example, me. I live in Bedfordshire and work in Chelsea, care to explain how I would get there other than a 2hr commute involving car and train?

Many people have to do this due to the nature of the work that they are in. I have moved as much as I could in order to be nearest to jobs but the fact remains that in my industry, the majority of jobs are in London.

Lets say I did work locally, the only time that I would use a bike would be if it wasn’t raining. I mean who really wants to turn up at work, soaking wet, dripping with sweat and needing a change of clothes? Not I.

My ticket into London went up by £2 this week and to be honest, that’s fine. The biggest issue is that they’ve also put car park tickets up.

Car parking at a station. The biggest rip off in the world. To park at Milton Keynes for the day costs £9 whereas the next stop down Bletchley it costs £3!!!!!

For me, the biggest cost rise in commuting isn’t fares (because if you look at it subjectively, for commuters it’s quite a good price) it is car parking. This is land that has always been owned by the railway and the only improvements in many places has been the addition of an extra deck. Complete ripoff

Dave – I did not say that it is currently possible for the majority of people to walk or cycle to work, but I do see this as a long-term solution if we put our minds to it. As I said, there are many complications, but we managed to live close to our place of work in the days before public and private transport existed. I am now retired, but my former employer, a university, supported a cycle to work scheme and provided showers for staff. I see it as poor corporate social responsibility for a company to run its business in a way that promotes commuting.

As the cost of transport rises, my narrow-minded opinion could be regarded as seeing the broader picture. 🙂

Making some assumptions, including driving 10 miles to Milton Keynes, your commute will cost you around £9,000 after tax. That’s equivalent to around £15,000 of pre-tax salary, or would get you an extra £150,000 of mortgage. Everyone should use their income as they choose, but it does perhaps highlight the penalty of excessive commuting and what you could choose to do if you altered your lifestyle. No criticism of what Dave does – just the alternatives. Commuting is perhaps one of our biggest waste of resources?

Thanks Charlotte, you’re a star.

Living 40 miles or more from work – whether it is “essential” or not – is such a waste of resources, and personal time. When Metroland was developed no doubt people moved into Bucks but were never far from an underground station, with commuting fairly quick and cheap. The scale and distance has now got out of hand. It is lunacy to continue with commuter-congestion. We must in future think about distributing jobs more widely by giving incentives to companies – particularly administrative such as banks, public services, publishing – to locate in regional towns (and disincentivised to locate or expand in London particularly). There are many places I would choose to live rather than the south east, with cheaper houses and shorter journeys.

I totally agree, Malcolm. The reason that I chose to live close to where I worked was mainly to save time, but nowadays cost and environmental considerations would be other important considerations.

I suspect that we could keep more jobs in the UK if companies did not have the high costs of running premises in London and other large cities.

DamnKnitBlast says:
9 January 2014

I’m amazed that no one has mentioned that as well as increasing prices, we commuters are suffering a rapidly deteriorating standard of service.

My 25 min journey is routinely 10 or 15 mins late, massively and overcrowded Cancelled and short trains are the norm.

On 2 occasions through December I was actually stranded in London and took several hours to get home by bus and walking as the entire network broke down.

The price increases would be much more palatable if the service was adequate.

I’m sure some commuters choose to travel outside peak times to miss the worst, but the sooner we introduce staggered working hours the sooner we can ease some congestion on both rail and road, as well as make better use of staff and resources. It might be difficult initially, but continuing as we are is not really an option.

To the extent that the costs of commuting are reflected in payroll costs through higher salaries and London [or similar] weighting supplements which then feed into consumer prices, plus the amount of direct and indirect taxation required to support and subsidise the road and rail infrastructure, the economic price of commuting is unsustainable and the personal well-being and societal implications are just as unfavourable. So why are we adding to the misery?

Dieseltaylor put his percipient finger right on the spot when he challenged Which? over their intensification of headquartering in London and suggested Southampton, Exeter, Chester, Norwich or Leicester as suitable alternative locations [and there are no doubt several others within the same general arc]. It would probably be argued that the upper strata of the Which? organisation need to be close to their contacts in the regulatory bodies and the centre of government as well as near the major airports for visiting the international trade shows. Well, Ithe first part of that proposition doesn’t hold water in these days digital communication, and, as for the second part, I happen to think that the staff would be able to enjoy such an enhanced quality of life and saving of time every single day that it would be a pleasure to make an occasional journey to London or Heathrow. I live near the Norfolk-Suffolk border and Heathrow to home by car takes just two hours door-to-door through beautiful countryside most of the way]. I wonder how that compares. And as I have said in these Conversations before, you can easily get a good four-bedroom detached house with garden and off-road parking within ten miles of Norwich at a much lower price than in the London region. There are nearly four hundred of them on the market right now between £200k and £300k. You could pay a lot more or considerably less. Only an inconsiderate and short-sighted employer would deny their staff the opportunity to enjoy such benefits! There are scores of towns and cities that need the shot in the arm that the transfer of major office-type employment to their centres would inject so there are even more good reasons why, as Malcolm has already said, the government should stimulate and incentivise this shift.

I am in favour of the HS2 rail link because it will improve connectivity of the midlands and north to London but it will release so much capacity onto the existing lines from Rugby southwards that a whole new world of commuting opportunities will open up and fill the trains to bursting once again. I think we’re going to have to wait nearly twenty years before all that comes to pass however and in the meantime the problems persist.

Phil says:
9 January 2014

There was a plan in the mid-1980’s for Which? to move most of it’s operations out to a new purpose built office/laboratory complex in Milton Keynes leaving just the political lobbyists in London but it never happened. The head lease on the London HQ would have had to have been sold to fund the project but the property crash of the late 80’s moved Which? into negative equity. In the end only the laboratory moved to MK from Harpenden, into a second hand building which really wasn’t suitable, in 1995. It remained there until it was disposed of in 2003.

I’m surprised Which? want to enlarge its London operation. Marylebone Road has never been big enough (somebody forgot to allow space for corridors) so where are they going to be housed? Will Which? have to rent more office space somewhere?

I thought they also had a base in Hertford. Room for expansion in that town, and not bad road links.

Phil says:
9 January 2014

The Hertford office just manages subscriptions.

Seems rather large just to do that?

Phil says:
9 January 2014

Well they call it their Customer Service Centre. It’s where all the mailing is done from.

Thanks for that insight Phil that does explain some things. The current Mortgage business is in Bristol so I was surprised at the announcement of an expansion of the business in London. I took it to mean some new offices would be required. The split of the current Which?/Consumer Association staff seems that 2/3rds are in the London office.

There is an nfpSynergy survey that shows London based offices are considered the most wasteful use of a charities money. This has been a consistently above 60% since the first survey in 2007 and reached 74% high in the March 2013 survey.

I see that one of the sites proposed by a think tank for a new “Garden City” is at Gerrards Cross in Buckinghamshire – just 20 miles from London centre on overcrowded rail connections and congested local roads. Not likely to have much local industry to provide local employment – it is a posh area. Have I missed something, or are nincompoops in charge? I would prefer to see a garden city built with local commercial and industrial employment in a less populated part of the UK to begin to reduce the need for wasteful commuting.

REM ACU TETIGISTI (you hit the nail on the head).

Nincompoops is being very polite. With most of the trains absolutely crammed to bursting during the morning/evening rush hour around London and the SE, building a new city in any of those congested areas is idiotic. It’s about as sensible as HS2.

Now should these idiots proposed a couple of new cities AND a completely new rail link to serve them, it may be something to consider.

Phil says:
30 January 2014

I have to got to Farnham next Friday for a funeral. The National Rail website quoted £117 for a return from my home station but by using the local train operators website, which provides a wider range of fares, and breaking the journey up (two singles and one return) I’ve got the price down to £61.10. I could’ve got it even cheaper but with my Old Git’s Railcard an Anytime First Class Return, Waterloo to Farnham is an irresistible £19.45!