Happy New Year Britain! Stand by for more cuts! cuts! cuts! Except in rail fares. There it’s a case of “let the train drain you dry”. As part of the festive fireworks, rail fares exploded by 4.3% so, if you are privileged enough to have a job at all, you can kiss good-bye to up to a quarter of your pay packet just to get you to work.
A season ticket will cost as much as 23% of gross salary or, put another way, you’ll effectively have to work till April Fools’ Day for nowt. Supreme irony or something else? You decide.
Even rail aficionado Michael Portillo appears to have been priced off the UK railways. In the teeth of recent BBC budget travails, Michael’s much-loved Great British Railway Journeys has transmogrified into a collection of rail journeys “across the heart of Europe”, no doubt slashing his programme budget by half at a stroke. Nice one, Michael.
Accentuating the positive, we in the UK can at least now claim to come top of something in Europe: public transport pricing.
So how do those pesky continentals do it?
Well, for a start, between 80% and 100% of passenger train services are provided by the public sector, making profits less of an issue. The result is this chart, which compares average UK passenger rail fares with those of other European countries (the squeamish among you should look away now):
So, in the interest of Joe Public: What would Borgen do?
Just to recap: Borgen is the pet-name for Christiansborg, a castle in Copenhagen and seat of the Danish Parliament, the ‘Folketing’ or ‘People Thing’ (scan that through your synonymeter for a moment). And, sad but true, not even Denmark is immune to the current financial omnishambles. Borgen controls the railways in Denmark and Borgen is hiking the fares. By 3.1%.
The most expensive annual season ticket in the country will now rocket to 13,364 Kroner or £1458 or 3.47% of average gross income (DKK383K = £42K). To hammer home the point I quote the most expensive season ticket theoretically available, just for fun, because the average Danish commute would most likely run to around 320 Kroner (£35) a month, in Copenhagen, the most expensive area in which to move about. My slightly shaky maths concludes that is DKK3840 per annum = £418 or roughly 1% of gross annual income.
Yes. One per cent.
OK, so Borgen does benefit from charging their citizens a king’s ransom in tax, with which to subsidise public utilities like railways. The Danes seem to prefer it that way. It makes budgeting far less time-consuming for the average household, who is busy having a good time.
About 50% of the Danish State Railways’ income comes from fares, the other 50% comes from the State. In contrast, the UK government rail subsidies run to about 20%, leaving passengers to foot 80% of the bill.
In fact, it seems, bizarrely, that UK subsidies have gone up since the break-up of British Rail, rather than down, which presumably was the intention? That, coupled with sky-rocketing ticket prices has, however, guaranteed a nice bonus for shareholders.
So we dutifully queue up at the ticket window to hand over our shrinking pay packets. A year after the McNulty report warned that the cost of rail remains sky-high in Britain – up to £3.5bn more than it ought to be, Railtrack again announces a doubling of profits from £313m to £754m.
Now who’s the April Fool?
* Kirsten de Keyser sits on the Camden Liberal Democrat Executive and is a member of Social Liberal Forum and Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine. She blogs here.