As someone who travels all over the country by train, I believe that the North of England gets a raw deal. Although we will not have to endure the awful Pacer trains for much longer, the fact that they are still used on some routes in Yorkshire proves that we are very much at the back of the queue when it comes to new rolling stock.
The Government keeps making promises, and says improvements are on the way, but can any of us believe those promises? Government policy appears more like the hokey-cokey.
Every Conservative MP I speak to representing seats in Yorkshire agrees with me that the there must be vast improvements in the transport infrastructure in the North of England. So when is it going to happen?
But what also concerns me is how customers who use our railways are being ripped off on a daily basis. We must have the most confusing ticketing system in Europe – if not the world. Trying to work out how to get the cheapest ticket is hard at best, and pretty much impossible at worst, as columnist Andrew Vine observed recently.
I have to be in Derby on June 2, and when I went to book a ticket, I was surprised that the cost of a return fare from Beverley was £57.20. I was surprised because I knew that an off-peak day return from Beverley to Sheffield is £24.20. As Sheffield and Derby are so close, what is the justification for charging an additional £33?
I have instead chosen to book an off-peak day return from Beverley to Sheffield, and another off-peak day return from Sheffield to Derby for a combined cost of £36.10 – a saving of £21.10.
Why the difference? Because the only ticket on offer from Beverley to Derby is an off-peak return. Day return tickets are not available. How many people are paying inflated prices for similar journeys when they shouldn’t have to? I only dug deeper because I knew the cost of a fare to Sheffield. Most people would accept the price and cough up the money for the fare.
The cost of an off-peak return from Sheffield to Newcastle-upon-Tyne is £60.10, but if you want to get there and back in a day, a better option is to book an off-peak day return from Sheffield to York for £18.40, and another off-peak day return from York to Newcastle for £40.90 – a saving of £8.80. If you want to save a additional pound, you could buy a ticket from York to Darlington, and then from Darlington to Newcastle for a combined price of £39.90. As long as the train you catch from York stops at Darlington, this is perfectly legal. And you won’t have to alight.
It’s a similar story if you wish to travel from Hull to Newcastle. By purchasing day return tickets via York, instead of paying £68.65, you will pay a combined fare of £60.30.
I could go on, but I am sure that you get the message. Millions of people every year are being ripped off. It is the equivalent of stealing from them, and it is about time this practice was ended. You shouldn’t have to spend an inordinate amount of time online working out split ticketing options in order to get the best fare. The best fare should be automatically given as an option in front of you.
What I am describing is nothing new. Politicians are aware of it, yet they sit on their hands and do nothing while their constituents are fleeced out of their hard-earned cash. They wouldn’t accept this type of behaviour from energy companies, so why do they tolerate it on the railways?
An increasingly greater percentage of people blame the problems on privatisation when the opposite is true. In general, apart from exceptions like Hull Trains and Grand Central, there is a complete lack of competition. Instead of having a national state-run monopoly, we have with lots of regional monopolies with the infrastructure effectively run from Whitehall.
To be fair to the Transport Secretary, he has tried to modernise the ticketing system. Electronic tickets are down to him, but there is so much more that can be done. If the Government is serious about ensuring that passengers get a better deal, it must act to end this great rail fares rip-off soon. Chris Grayling, over to you.
Andrew Allison is Head of Campaigns at The Freedom Association.