Rail fares have soared in recent years and commuters may respond by taking to the roads, causing increased congestion and air pollution.
There is something rather romantic about travelling by train. So much so that VisitScotland promotes “Scotland’s Great Rail Journeys” through some of this country’s most stunning scenery such as the West Highland Line from Glasgow to Mallaig and the trip from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh. This is rail transport at its finest, travel for its own sake, for enjoyment.
But the ordinary experience of many Scottish commuters attempting to travel on more workaday routes is anything but joyful.
Instead, delays and cancellations have become all-too-common – with ScotRail’s current problems recently branded “unacceptable” by Transport Secretary Michael Matheson in the Scottish Parliament. Those failings can have significant knock-on effects on individuals and the wider Scottish economy. Indeed, one Edinburgh shop boss last month went so far as to say he would never again employ someone who relied on trains to get to work because of the delays experienced by a key member of staff. That may have been an over-reaction, but the frustrations of those concerned are understandable to most people.
And so it was hardly surprising when there was a chorus of outrage over the latest ticket price rises. ScotRail’s fares were due to go up today by an average of 2.8 per cent, while London North Eastern Railway’s fares were to increase by 3.4 per cent. Across the whole of the UK, the average rise is 3.1 per cent.
An analysis of more than 180 routes by Labour found the average annual season ticket cost £2,980, up £786 from 2010, and that fares had risen nearly three times faster than wages.
With UK rail travel already among the most expensive in Europe, commuters can be forgiven for complaining, particularly when the service is not up to scratch. Apart from delays, finding a seat on the most popular rush-hour journeys is often a struggle.
The problem for those who travel by other means is that rail travellers may do more than complain, they could decide to switch to the roads, leading to increased congestion, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
The railways are a vital part of this country’s transport infrastructure, playing a key role in the economy. Trains need to run on time except in the most exceptional circumstances. At a time when too many services are not reliable, fare rises only add insult to injury.