Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Forking out on the buses

Take the price hike on West Midlands buses and put it next to Gordon Brown's and the CBI's call for a wage freeze. It's happy days all round.

Let's not beat around the bush. Britain in 2009 is the place where the 'little people' are being slapped in the face for the years of binge enjoyed by what Tony Blair famously referred to as "the wealth creators". But while the wealth creators may have to cut down on a Ferrari or two (if that), let's have a look at how the 'little people' are being left to fend for themselves.

Imagine you're in the bottom 27% per cent of UK families who don't own a car. As Margaret Thatcher once charmingly said "travelling by bus is a sure failure in anyone over the age of twenty-six". You're one of them (and so am I) and public transport is our only way to access work and do our daily business.

This is how prices in the West Midlands have shot up in the past four years:
- 2005: £1.00
- 2006: £1.20
- 2007: £1.40
- 2008: £1.50
- 2009: £1.70

Correct. A single bus ticket in the Birmingham area now stands at a mindblowing £1.70. Last year, Travel West Midlands justified the price hike with the need "to offset rising fuel costs". But with oil prices back down again, what have they got to say now?

Now, if your wages were to follow the same trend (that's a 70% increase in four years), your minimum wage would have gone up from £5.05 in 2005 to £8.58 in 2009. In the real world, though, there was only a 9% rise to the current £5.52, and that's still getting our CBI bosses' knickers in a twist.

Of course National Express, the new owners of Travel West Midlands, will point towards the swanky new buses that ooze CCTVs from all pores and indeed they do look very good. They will then advise you to purchase a "Daysaver", but that too went from £3.00 to £3.30 in one go.

That's about buses. Then, with the official inflation rate above 4 per cent, the ever mighty council tax and unstoppable utility bills, Gordon Brown had the cheek (or maybe something else) to call for "wage restraint" (2 per cent, in his view), and also to urge HM's subjects to enjoy shopping sprees down the High Street. All the while the Confederation of British Industries (CBI) has seized the opportunity to call for a minimum wage freeze.

Remember that, according to the governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, the current rise of inflation has nothing to do with wages. "Pay growth has remained moderate", he said (except for boardroom pay, of course, up by 37%).

In conclusion, when will a journalist, any journalist, ever confront our Labour and Conservative politicians with the above mentioned figures and the simple question: how on earth are ordinary people supposed to make it?


Anonymous said...

Conversely my Direct Debit Faresaver has been frozen for 3 years at £38/month. What NXWM are trying to trying to do is shift people from paying cash (which slows up boarding) to buying off the bus. Ken Livingstone did the same thing in London (though there the smartcard system brings various additional advantages)

Now clearly not everybody is in a financial position to have a Direct Debit like me, yet even weekly tickets are now very good value compared to paying cash. I am not attempting to defend fare hikes or say that NXWM tickets are affordable for the poorest in society, simply to point out the reason for the increases.

claude said...

Why is it that whenever a blog or a paper or a website is trying to argue on behalf of struggling customers, whether it's about the trains, utility bills or the bus fares, there always happens to be an anonymous commenter magically finding a POSITIVE or HAPPY side on behalf of those making a mint?

And yet Anonymous is right. You can indeed purchase a Faresaver on Direct Debit for £38.

But, for the sake of accuracy, let's also say that, in line with the culture introduced by BT and nPower, if you can't do direct debit, your Faresaver already goes up to £44.

Still, hundreds of thousands of people (as well as the occasional bus users and city visitors) for whatever reason won't be in a position to purchase a monthly pass. And, similarly to the train companies, boardroom people know that full well.

To most customers it's very simple. If the FareSaver has stayed the same and the cash tickets have rocketed up by 70% it means that overall bus fares have gone up. They haven't gone down. They haven't stayed the same.
They simply have gone right up.

I also forgot to mention that up to 2000-01, a bus fare on TWM was 80p.
Now, how can you justify more than doubling the price in less than 10 years?

The cost of living hasn't doubled since. Your wage (unless you're a chief executive) and mine has far from doubled...

Stan Moss said...

when will a journalist, any journalist, ever confront our Labour and Conservative politicians with the above mentioned figures and the simple question: how on earth are ordinary people supposed to make it?

No worries. Feed them Big Brother and industrial quantities of booze, make them think that the real worry is 'the immigrants' and they won't think.

Anonymous said...

National Express have been behind Travel West Midlands from day 1.

Anyway try this for an explanation of fuel and fares.