This week has brought disastrous news for the country’s rail network, its small businesses, and the economy at large.
Fare rises at almost double the rate of inflation are unacceptable, and are bad for every company except the train companies. Small businesses need a reliable, efficient, affordable transport infrastructure. Price increases of this magnitude threaten to make unaffordable the travel on which thousands of small firms rely – and, with overcrowding and delays rife, they are entirely unjustifiable.
But fare rises are not the only problem coming down the line. The transfer of the West Coast Mainline franchise to FirstGroup threatens to cause yet more fare rises for passengers, in exchange for pared back catering services and lost jobs. As a regular passenger on the London to Manchester line I have seen significant improvements under Virgin Trains. It will be a major disappointment if the government’s decision proves to be a retrograde step.
The UK can ill afford to play Russian roulette with its transport network. According to one group, passengers in parts of south-east England are now spending 15% of their salary just getting to work. At such a crucial juncture for the country, it is absurd to be further reducing effective demand in the economy by cutting the amount of money in people’s pockets. The government must take decisive action to prevent unjustifiable fare rises, and to ensure that the country gets the train network it so desperately needs.