IT’S interesting to see Transport Minister Philip Hammond talking so freely about the cost of rail fares – in particular on how much it is going to cost to ride the HS2 link set to smash it way through Camden on its high speed journey from London to Birmingham (Aren’t we supposed to be discussing whether it’s a good idea and should even go ahead right now, rather than skipping to the detail of ticket prices at this stage?)
Mr H said (comments he now says were a bit flippant):
Uncomfortable fact number one is that the railway is already relatively a rich man’s toy. People who use the railway on average have significantly higher incomes than the population as a whole – simple fact. The assumptions underlying the patterns of use of HS2 assume similar pricing to the West Coast Mainline, which I have said before ranges from eye-wateringly expensive to really quite reasonable, if you dig around and use the advance purchase ticket options that are available. And therefore the assumption is that the socio-economic mix of passengers will be broadly similar to those using the West Coast Mainline.
Like I said, it was interesting to see a Transport Secretary talk so openly about rail fares. Contrast it with this short and sweet, over and out, written exchange between Frank Dobson and former Conservative Transport Sec Norman Fowler (now a Lord) from 1979. This was one of the first written questions to a secretary of state that Dobbo filed after being elected for the first time in Holborn and St Pancras South (from Hansard):
47. Mr Dobson asked the Minister of Transport what is his policy towards fare increases on British Railways.
Mr Fowler: It is for the Railways Board to decide on the appropriate level of far exchanges.
And that was it. No waffle. No silly ‘rich man’s toy’ comment. Not much debate, either.