Monday, January 03, 2011

The relentless rise of transport fares

Why the periodical calls of "spend and save the economy" are grating and snobbish in the extreme.

Over the Christmas period, you may have overheard various pontificators telling the populace to spend, spend, spend in order to "save the economy".

With what money though, they never say. Look at the figures.

According to the Office for National Statistics, salaries in Britain went up in 2010 by 2.3%, less than the current rate of inflation which now stands at 3.2%.

That looks positively tame when you consider the inflation-busting rises ordinary people are having to deal with whichever direction they look.

Transport fares, for instance. As of yesterday, they went up across the whole country. In Birmingham, adult bus fares increased by 5.55%, daysavers rose by 8.3% (they now stand at £3.60) and the precious evening savers were done away with altogether (see here for full details).

Of course, like each and every single time fares go up, transport companies justify the policy by playing the usual old record of "rising business costs", "massive reinvestment" and "new vehicles".

Yet, an external observer may be excused if he or she expects those buses to be powered by Ferrari, paved with gold, and sporting a crew of smiling hostesses dispensing free drinks to cheer you up on your ride to work. Because since 2005 tickets on the former Travel West Midlands and current National Express West Midlands have gone up by a mental 80%. That is eighty-per-cent, from £1 five years ago to the current £1.80.

Top executives aside, hands up anybody if your wages have gone up by anything remotely like that. The most recent minimum wage increase, for instance, was a meagre 2.19%.

So, when Chancellor George Osborne returns from his "luxury break" at Prince Charles’s favourite ski resort, can any journalist with a pair please ask him what advice he's got for the millions of low wage workers facing galloping costs eating further into their wages?

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