“The UK has the highest fares in Europe, which makes it hard for people to take the train. Public ownership would save around £1 billion a year. That could reduce fares by 18%”
By Kerry Abel, TSSA
TSSA’s Future of Rail campaign makes the case for well-funded public transport run by skilled workers for the benefit of the environment, the economy and people.
We currently face two crises running in parallel – the climate is heating up ever faster, leading to increased extreme weather disasters – and an ever-deepening cost of living crisis. Costs are up, but wages are stagnant.
In a climate crisis it’s even more important to focus on cleaner, greener travel, electrify track, upgrade our infrastructure, and move away from aviation.
Despite record breaking heatwaves and floods, Glasgow hosting the COP19 in 2021, and promises to cut fossil fuel consumption, the UK government used the pandemic as cover to run down the railways.
They started calls for job cuts on rail almost as soon as the pandemic started; even though the commuter railway ran all through it, getting key workers into work everyday.
Even before the pandemic, the Department for Transport were reneging on agreements to electrify parts of the railway to cut reliance on diesel; cancelling electrification plans for Hull in 2016 and again in 2021.
Closing ticket offices will make train travel harder for disabled passengers and anyone trying to get the cheapest ticket.
The government is seeking £1.5 billion worth of cuts from railways in the next 5 years. In 2015 they took £700 million out of Transport for London’s public subsidy. They are now trying to eat into the infrastructure budget, jobs and pensions too.
But Oxford Economics found that every £1 spent in rail generated £2.50 in the wider economy. If rail investment increased by 50%, this would generate an additional £5.6bn per year, and an extra 104,000 jobs.
The UK has the highest fares in Europe, which makes it hard for people to take the train. Public ownership would save around £1 billion a year. That could reduce fares by 18%.
Transport is the biggest polluting sector in Britain and nothing has been done to reverse this. The Tory government is making it worse by investing in new roads.
In 2020 the government offered generous bailouts to aviation. Airlines took £1.8bn from the Covid
relief scheme. Yet when Eurostar asked for guaranteed loans that would protect the routes to France, Belgium and beyond as well as over 1,000 jobs they got nothing.
Clearly public transport is the answer, investing in new track and new trains, and ensuring that the investment is effective – by taking rail into public ownership.
We need to make it easier for people to get to work or travel around the country on public transport by reducing fares. This would reduce fossil fuel usage, pollution, costs of fuel and also help increase leisure travel to benefit local economies.
It doesn’t have to be like this.
Last Summer Germany set up a €9 a month ticket for unlimited public transport, which was a huge success. Over 31 million tickets were sold, passenger numbers regained pre-pandemic levels, decreasing road use. Germany funded the move by paying private train operators – something the British Department of Transport is currently funding without the same level of benefit for passengers!
This year they have followed it up with a €49 a month flat fee for all public transport apart from long distance ICE (intercity) trains.
But in the UK we had the biggest increase to rail fares in nine years (3.8%) last year and this is set to rise even further. This is unsustainable with rising house prices forcing key workers further and further out of major cities; requiring them to commute to keep vital public services going.
Making travel affordable is proven to take people out of their cars and onto greener, more efficient public transport. What are we waiting for?
The rail strikes have shown workers standing up for themselves and making an eloquent case for good pay deals and strong unions as the face of public transport. It’s workers that will keep us moving, public sector members who make planning and procurement decisions; and we have a lot to offer in terms of organisation and tactics.
The trade union base is changing – more women are taking up their space in the union movement and our members want a world that their children can grow up in.
- Kerry Abel is an organiser for the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA). You can follow the TSSA on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
- This article was originally published by the Greener Jobs Alliance (GJA) August 2023 Newsletter – you can read the newsletter in full here.