Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/469/1960
Fare rises show...
Public transport and private ownership don't mix
NEW LABOUR claims to defend both the environment and public services. Their claims look hollow following the large rises recently announced in rail prices.
London Underground now has the dubious honour of being the world's most expensive metro system. Cash fares for single tickets in Central London now cost £4. Although fares on the touch-card Oyster system remain frozen at £1.50 the rise will still hurt occasional users, who are generally less well off and tend to use cash, and visitors to the city.
Overland rail prices have risen on average by 4.7%. Passengers travelling from London to Edinburgh face a £232 charge for a return ticket. Berlin to Munich travellers pay £145 for a journey of similar length.
These price hikes are a symptom of problems that go right to the core of modern day capitalism. The decision to privatise the railways was taken by a Tory government that handed over a valuable public service to profiteers.
Rail companies now try to justify the new fares by pointing out the need for investment in the rail network. The need for investment is correct but only because of years of underinvestment by the rail firms in order to pay huge dividends and juicy bonuses to shareholders.
Railtrack, the company operating the rail network, estimates that £8 billion is needed to upgrade stations and build new track. Such a massive bill needs to be critically examined by the public given some of the massively inflated bills produced by private companies in areas like the NHS. Unfortunately transparency is impossible where services are contracted out to private companies, protected as they are by commercial law.
The environmental damage high fares will cause makes the price rises even more serious. Air fares from London to Edinburgh cost £85 return. The difference in financial and environmental price between air and rail is stark. The average carbon output of a single rail passenger from London to Edinburgh is 28kg compared to 206kg by airplane.
The logic of the market means more passengers will switch from rail to air travel with a rise in carbon output. An increase in air travel aggravates serious environmental problems such as global warming, pollution, depletion of scarce fossil fuels and noise pollution in built-up areas.
A cheap, extensive railway system is a vital component of a sustainable transport system. That is a closed book to this government.
A Department of Transport spokesperson commented on the increases, "We don't want to see people driven away from the railways... but it's a commercial decision of the operators on how to set fares."
This statement sums up the contradiction of privatising while aiming to provide good-quality public services and protecting the environment. In order to achieve these aims there needs to be planning where both people's needs and the environment are taken into account.
This is impossible where a service like transport is split up into competing sectors whose priority is the enrichment of a tiny elite. All the main political parties are simply representatives of this elite. For example in 1996 Labour promised to renationalise the railways. Their record since then speaks volumes about their 'commitment' to public transport.
The best way to protect the environment and improve public transport is to take the planning and running of society out of the hands of the rich and into the control of working people.
This can only happen by building a party that challenges the profiteers and polluters and is committed to building a socialist society.
In The Socialist 11 January 2007:
Socialist Party news and analysis
Violence against women
Socialist Party review
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news