I mean it. It’s not funny at all, because the financial outlay puts what should be a straightforward and affordable journey out of the reach of thousands of people.
HS2 will do absolutely nothing to change the situation. I foresee the possibility of it actually making the voyage even more expensive and socially-divisive. It will create a two-tier system. The best, quickest (and therefore most expensive) tickets will be reserved for those with the means to travel by super-fast bullet trains. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m imagining the vast majority of these will be business travellers.
Everyone else will still be obliged to take a standard service. I can’t see this being offered at bargain basement prices as a quid pro quo. Apart from Transport for London’s landmark 2016 decision to reduce Zone 1 bus fares to £1.50 to encourage public transport use, when did any form of public transport ever reverse fares? Earlier this week, I travelled to the capital with my husband and 14-year-old daughter; she was meeting her cousin to go to a concert. The ticket was a Christmas present from her grandparents and it was Lizzie’s first ‘proper’ gig.
The day after Boxing Day, I set off researching the price of return train tickets for the three of us. You could argue that my husband didn’t need to come, which would have kept costs down. But – not least because of the cost – I have to maximise these trips to London, so I booked in various work meetings too. I didn’t particularly want to abandon my 14-year-old to her own devices whilst I fitted these in, so we decided to go as a threesome. To be fair, three people travelling from Barnsley to London at freezing, rain-soaked February half-term is hardly the fringes of wild extravagance. It’s not like we decided to take a few days in Barbados or Mars.
Well, to cut a long night spent juggling various websites and apps short, splitting tickets and factoring in car-parking and/or taxi fares, the cost of the total trip for travel by train was coming in at way more than £200.
Add the modest hotel in Peckham, which I’d managed to secure for £85 B&B, and a quick half-term excursion was turning into the price of a week in a caravan. So, I made an executive decision and filled up the car for £62 and drove there and back.
Even with the £50.50 it cost to pay the congestion charge (£11.50 a day) for driving in central London and the ULEZ charge (£12.50 a day) as my car is more than four years old and sadly not hybrid or electric, but dirty diesel, plus parking (around £3 an hour during charging periods) it was still less than half the price of public transport. I felt guilty about the environment for the entire time, but this recent expedition has really brought the cost of travel home. And it has made me sad, because I think of all the young people at Lizzie’s school whose families will never even have the modest means to do what we did. Their horizons are blighted; their world becomes ever-smaller.
Before you write in and tell me that we should have taken the Megabus or National Express coach, I did explore this option. Indeed, I’ve been looking at the timetables for my student son and his pal, who are going to a music festival at Finsbury Park in north London this summer.
Booking ahead, the fare is about £30 return each. There’s a caveat, however. The bus takes about six hours from Barnsley and the timetable is limited. They’re facing a 6am start and the prospect of a night on a bench at Victoria coach station waiting for the return service the next day, but they can hack it. The bus should certainly be publicised more, but it’s really only for those whose plans fit. And before you call me a bus snob, I have taken the National Express coach myself; the timings once fitted perfectly for travelling to a lunchtime work appointment in Golders Green in north-west London, as there’s a scheduled stop there.
I could give you a very long list of reasons why London-centricism is a bad idea. However, the fact remains that it is the capital city. It’s the seat of government and monarchy.
It is stuffed with national treasures, monuments, museums and galleries. It is where trends bubble under and innovations begin to take root. It’s also by far our largest city. To understand why the North is the North and the South is the South, you have to see it at least once. A government truly committed to bridging the divide should put its money where its mouth is. I’ll give them the figures.