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article imageOp-Ed: Train ticket tyranny

By Alexander Baron     Dec 3, 2011 in Travel
Earlier this week, a young woman explained to a BBC magazine programme how she was penalised by a train company for alighting from the train early.
Privatisation is not a bad thing per se, those of us who are old enough to remember the General Post Office will attest to that. The GPO had a monopoly of both the mail and the telephone system. Now there numerous telephone companies, although admittedly some of them are useless, but if you don't like one telephone provider or ISP, there are plenty more out there. The same thing cannot be said for train travel.
The rail system began as a plethora of relatively small private companies, but was nationalised in 1948. British Rail and later the British Railways Board was and some would argue still is, a natural monopoly.
With the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 came not simply a programme of privatisation but an unassailable dogma that everything should be sold off, including the family silver. The result of this for rail travellers has been disaster, and on occasion, tyranny.
The so-called privatised rail companies are both private and public: their profits are private; their subsidies are very public. In short, they would be impossible to run without being heavily subsidised; their current subsidy is around 50% of their revenue. Yet they still want blood.
Earlier this week, the BBC magazine programme The One Show highlighted the case of one young lady who alighted from the train early - Clapham Junction rather than Waterloo - only to be fined. And when she appealed the fine, it was increased. [This particular edition of the programme is not available due apparently to Jeremy Clarkson's performance].
Having aired her grievances to the BBC, the company, Megatrain, relented.
This is very likely the tip of an enormous iceberg, but few cases are reported. Last September, saw the equally ridiculous/tyrannical case of Emma Clark and Davyd Winter-Bates who were travelling to Southampton from London with South West Trains when they decided to get off two stops early at Eastleigh.
When they handed over their tickets at the station, they were told they were each being fined £57 because they had not stayed on the train until their destination.
The fine was twice the standard fare of £28.50.
Miss Clark told the Sun newspaper: “It is utter madness. I could understand being fined if I had stayed on the train two stops beyond my destination.”
The company's response was “Leaving a train early is not allowed on heavily discounted tickets. The fine is double the standard single fare."
On top of all that, in his Autumn Statement, our benificent Chancellor has very graciously announced that train fare rises will be capped to the Retail Price Index plus 1% instead of 3%. In other words, they will still be increased at above inflation, but not as fast as previously planned.
With the continued increase in the cost of motoring including congestion charges, parking charges and fines in addition to fuel and the duty on same, it is hardly surprising that the economy is grinding to a halt, because most people, especially the hard pressed commuter, can literally hardly afford to move.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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