Tom Richmond: A fare deal on trains means ticket prices linked to reliability

GIVEN that Britain now has a Government which is committed to working in the interests of all '“ and not just a privileged few '“ how about Ministers living up to this mantra and getting the railways back on track?

Passengers continue to be taken for a ride on overcrowded and late-running trains.
Passengers continue to be taken for a ride on overcrowded and late-running trains.

In a political era when targets are integral to the public sector, whether it be A&E waiting times, school exam passes, quality of teaching at universities or HMRC’s telephone service, it beggars belief that such data is not applied to the private train operators.

Even though it is standing room only on many commuter services in Yorkshire, and that the trains are in disarray in the south of the country, fares will still be going up by 1.9 per cent – the current rate of inflation.

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Try justifying this to all those inconvenienced by late-running services – the latest punctuality rates reveal that just 87.4 per cent trains are arriving at their destination on time.

And even this statistic cannot be taken at face value – trains are judged as being ‘on time’ if they’re up to five minutes late on suburban routes. For long distance services, there’s a 10 minute period of grace.

I see no reason why annual fare increases should not be linked to punctuality and performance. If a minimum of 95 per cent of trains reach their destination within five minutes, the operator should be permitted to raise ticket prices in line with inflation. If not, fares should be frozen – or reduced.

Of course, the train operators will argue that services can be delayed by factors outside of their control such as unforeseen accidents, the militancy of the Jeremy Corbyn-backed transport unions like the RMT and Network Rail; and engineering work. However I’m sure new criteria can reflect these occurrences.

Let’s remember that the railway industry is one of the few public services where top executives appear to be unaccountable for poor management and planning – perplexed travellers on the Southampton to Weymouth line this week reported hearing this announcement from a guard: “We apologise for the overcrowded train. This has been caused by too many people on it.”

It’s high time the Government consigned the culture of excuses to the sidings and put long-suffering passengers back in the driving seat. After all, those train bosses genuinely committed to customer service should have nothing to fear from a more robust approach.

THERE was relief when Chancellor Philip Hammond confirmed that the agricultural industry will not be short-changed when responsibility for farm subsidies transfers from Brussels to Westminster.

Regrettably, this particular Brexit exercise will not be straight-forward. The reason? Ever since its inception when Labour’s Margaret Beckett – remember her? – was Environment Secretary, the Rural Payments Agency has presided over one bureaucratic blunder after another because of a serial inability to deal with change.

Now this body will be responsible for devising a new scheme from scratch – and its officials won’t be able to blame the European Union if payments are delayed, erroneous or both. In this regard, the Government does not 
need to wait for the triggering of Article 50. It should be preparing the groundwork now and forming a top team who are capable of managing this transition.

Yet, as the Campaign to Protect Rural England made clear this week, it is also an opportunity for Ministers to halt the decline of small farms. As its food and farming campaigner Graeme Willis says: “Do we really want to continue the pattern of ever larger agri-business, less connected to communities and out of kilter with nature?”

Only Ministers can answer this question – and it has to be hoped that Andrea Leadsom, the recently-appointed Environment Secretary, gave this issue sufficient thought when she was advocating Britain’s exit from the EU. However, she needs to remember that any policy changes, or shift in emphasis, is dependent on the RPA being fit for purpose.

THANK you for the feedback to last week’s column exposing the political inaction when it comes to dualling the A64 from York to Malton and Scarborough to boost the economy of this neglected part of Yorkshire.

Given that the Malton Bypass first opened in 1978, and there are approximately 38 miles of single carriageway along this route, the whole road could have been upgraded by now if one mile had been completed each year.

Why isn’t a greater fuss being made over this dereliction of duty by successive MPs, ministers and local authority leaders – and who is going to take up the cudgels? Perhaps it should be Welcome to Yorkshire supremo Sir Gary Verity’s next project...

THERESA May’s ‘less is more’ mantra when it comes to Ministerial appointments and civil servants has not reached her Tory colleague Julia Mulligan, the police and crime commissioner for North Yorkshire.

Despite not having a deputy since being elected in 2012, and then re-elected this May, Mrs Mulligan is now advertising for a £50,000 deputy. According to her press spokesman, “there just aren’t enough hours in the day” for “public engagement” on the commissioner’s part. I thought meeting the people was called public service.

GIVEN that David Cameron’s government wanted the 2014 Tour de France to begin in Scotland, and not Yorkshire, Theresa May has made another break from the past by committing £24m so this region can bid to host the UCI Road World Championships in 2019, a global event won by Mark Cavendish in 2011 and Otley’s Lizzie Armitstead last year.

She clearly recognises the economic, transport and tourism ‘triple whammy’ if this county wins the next big race in the post-Olympic cycle. All it needs is for Boris Johnson, the cycling Foreign Secretary, to become bid ambassador and wear the distinctive Welcome to Yorkshire ‘Y’ symbol on his travels.

IF you want a smile, read the tweets posted by the indefatigable Archbishop of York after Team GB’s successes at the Rio Olympics. My favourite is this message posted after the heptathlon: “J Ennis-Hill we Rooted for you! We’re so sorry you didn’t win gold as you did in 2012!Silver is creditable especially from U:Inspirational.” Proof, if any was need, of the power of sport to uplift.