The announcements by the UK Government last week about rail finances serve only to confirm a lack of real commitment to public transport. Faced with a demand which exceeds the supply at peak hours, their response seems to be the classic piece of economics – increase the price until the demand drops to match the supply.
There is scope, of course, to stagger the peak hours more effectively by encouraging companies to work more flexibly, and that would make better overall use of resources. I doubt, however, whether upping the price of peak hour public transport is going to be the most effective or efficient mechanism to achieve that.
Pricing people off the railways will only increase roads congestion, and lead to yet more calls for more road-building. What is actually needed is a plan to increase rail capacity, in order to reward and encourage the growing trend to the use of public transport, but they seem unwilling even to consider that.
Comparisons with the cost levels of railways in other countries may be interesting; but in themselves, I’m not convinced that they tell us much, since the circumstances are so different. In any large organisation, there will always be some degree of inefficiency and therefore scope for doing things better, but it seems like the wrong thing to be putting centre stage at a time when we really need a cohesive plan for investment and improvement.
So, certainly there are smarter ways of handling ticketing in an increasingly computerised system, and it would seem sensible to pursue those; but we shouldn’t be waiting to drive out cost before we look at how we expand and improve the service.