Transport should be run for people not private profit

The recent fare rises announced are yet more proof of the failure of railway privatisation, writes KEN LIVINGSTONE

MUCH of the “mainstream” media has been woefully negligent in holding Boris Johnson and co to account for their disastrous handling of the coronavirus pandemic and deepening economic crisis. One element of this is that there has not been much attention drawn to the different aspects of a deepening cost-of-living crisis facing many people.

One such recent development was when the Tory government announced last month that long-suffering passengers can expect yet another rise in train fares next year.

Labour analysis has compared the costs on over 180 train routes between when the Tories came to power and the projected new prices that will be implemented from January 2021 — and they illustrate the true extent of the great rail rip-off.

The average commuter will now be paying £3,113 for their season ticket, which is £919 or 42 per cent more than in 2010.

The analysis also shows that it affects people all over the country — in Johnson’s own constituency, the cost of an annual season ticket from West Drayton to Paddington has risen by £617 since 2010.

In further evidence of the cost of living crisis caused by the Tories’ ideologically driven austerity policies, average fares have risen two-and-a-half times faster than wages.

These latest proposed rail fare increases are an affront to everyone who has had to endure years of chaos on Britain’s railways and, furthermore, the impact of the Covid-19 crisis should rule out fare increases.

As TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes has said, “There should be no planned increase in rail fares – doing so in the middle of a health emergency and emerging economic crisis will help no one,” and we need “a new start which puts passengers not profits first.”

Each year the Tories try to pass the buck when it comes to these price hikes, yet the reality is that the amount by which train companies can raise regulated fares is the responsibility of the Transport Secretary.

The government has the power to enforce this but again and again have chosen not to.

Railway privatisation has turned out to be a bad deal for taxpayers and passengers in every way possible.

Transport should be run as a public service for everyone’s benefit. Instead, we’re spending millions every year subsidising the profits of private companies, while all too often passengers are left frustrated as their local services are removed or not properly funded and fares increase while staffing levels are cut.

For these reasons, most of the public understands that this is the right time to plan returning the entire national rail network to public ownership.

If the government tossed aside the ideological blinkers of the Treasury and got that message, they would do themselves a great deal of good among passengers and taxpayers alike, especially in light of the issues posed by the Covid-19 crisis.

But, as with so many issues, the Tory development of rail and transport policy is guided by neoliberal ideology, not what works best economically and for the people.

Again and again, the privateers on our railways have taken the public sector for a ride — we have seen the nationalisation of losses and the privatisation of profits.

The railways are perhaps the clearest demonstration that it is a fairy tale that privatisation means the private sector takes the risk as well as taking its profit. In truth, every time a privatisation of a vital public service fails, the public sector picks up the tab.

It is also inherently wasteful to run these services on privatised lines. The nature of the privatising companies is that a significant proportion of the profits of their activities has to be paid in dividends to shareholders rather than reinvested in the service. This is money wasted. A publicly owned company would be obliged to reinvest any revenues back into the transport system.

Furthermore, privatisation is justified on the grounds that the private sector is driven, through the rigour of competition, to be more efficient and more responsive to passengers’ needs.

This is a fiction in the case of a natural monopoly like a railway. Apart from the brief period of competition among bidders for contracts, there is hardly any day-to-day competition at all.

In such circumstances, it is more rational — both in terms of sustaining investment and in the future in terms of tackling climate change — for rail services to be publicly owned.

Now then is the time to strongly make the case to take the railway back into public ownership, in order to improve services and to cap fares.

It is also the time to extend public ownership elsewhere in order to invest in our future and help tackle the impending economic catastrophe, including the buses, water, energy, mail and broadband.

Originally published in The Morning Star