Rail fare rises are frequently disguised as being a good thing, by both government officials and rail operators. Commuters are often told that the rises will go towards making their journey more efficient and less stressful. Often rail passengers are encouraged to believe that the fare rises are not disproportionate to the service they receive. Yet despite continual annual fare rises, such as the one announced this December, UK train services remain an undisputed headache for anyone who has the fortune of using them on a regular basis.
This most recent rise is the smallest in the last six years, as train operators have been keen to point out. The rise excludes regulated rail fares such as season tickets which will rise with RPI inflation rates and some ‘anytime’ tickets which are often used by commuters travelling during busy times of day. Off-peak users, who currently benefit from smaller fares, are the most exposed to the new fare hikes. The rise in ticket prices will be 1.1% for average rail fares according to the BBC and will be implemented in the New Year; a belated little gift for commuters after the holiday season.
Although this rise is slight compared to rises in recent years ticket prices have increased overall by 25% in the past five years. Yes some of these increases probably have contributed to many services which are now more efficient and have helped reduce the number of delays. However the price for all this efficiency and improvement has been high with rail passengers taking the brunt of the costs. For all these price hikes there are still areas where rail operators are failing; trains are still too overcrowded, commuters continue to be late to work on a regular basis and empty first class carriages remain a constant reminder for disgruntled rail passengers of their operators’ profit orientated goals.
Rail operators have often tried to highlight that their price hikes have been tailored to avoid affecting regular commuters as much as possible. However, many commuters now use off peak tickets to save on travel costs and so by increasing the fares of these tickets operators will be hitting some of those who use their service most frequently. Rail operators have also overlooked once again the growing number of part-time workers who now commute into major cities. Part-time workers are still not able to buy flexible season tickets and have to pay the same amount for a season ticket as an employee who commutes five days a week.
Teleworking: Not Reducing Commuter Numbers Significantly
With this in mind it is not surprising then that part-time workers, as well as their full time colleagues, are being increasingly attracted to businesses that promote teleworking. Teleworking enables employees to cut out the commute entirely and work from home. The rising price of real estate and rail fares have contributed in equal measure to the teleworking phenomenon.
However it should not be concluded that teleworking is a solution for those who want avoid rail fares and the morning commute. Many businesses still are uneasy about the idea of their employees working from home. Such unease is reflected in the percentage of those who work from home in the UK, which remains under 5% of the entire work force. This dwindling statistic has partially been the result of a number of leading companies, including Yahoo and Google, actively encouraging their employees to report to their offices each morning. What’s more, employees are not rushing to sign up for teleworking – with most still recognising the disadvantages that come with not being seen in the office everyday. This includes being on the back foot when it comes to critical career advancements such as bonuses, promotions and schmoozing with the boss.
Commuters, nor train operators for that matter, should not expect teleworking to ease the pressure of the morning commute any time soon. Indeed, very deeply ingrained business practices are currently preventing this. Without any reduction in the number of commuters in the foreseeable future trains will continue to be overcrowded and commuters will be faced with fare rises that do not reflect the quality of the service that operators are providing.