Season tickets into the city region

Void UK rail ticketIf you read the news this week, you may have noticed stories about rail ticket price increases stemming from a Passenger Focus press release about the potential scrapping of the “RPI+1” fare increase formula – that is, the amount that regulated rail ticket prices are allowed to rise every year, consisting of the Retail Price Index (inflation) plus an additional one percent. With the July 2010 RPI announced as 4.8%, this means that commuters are already in line for a 5.8% fare increase in January. There are fears that the Government may allow larger fare increases than this in an attempt to reduce taxpayer subsidy to the railways, currently standing at around £5 billion per year.

One statistic from the press release stuck out like a sore thumb (our emphasis):

“Our research has shown that passengers in Britain already pay some of the highest commuter fares in Europe. For example, an annual season ticket for a journey such as Warrington to Manchester costs 60% more than an equivalent journey into Paris. Just because you can increase fares, does not mean you should – this is a time for restraint.”

It doesn’t seem like a fair comparison at first glance – Paris is a capital city, so shouldn’t the comparison be with London fares? This would be even less flattering to the British railway system however, as it’s widely acknowledged that commuter fares into London are even more expensive. Just what is the French equivalent journey that Passenger Focus is talking about? A quick email to their press office suggested the February 2009 study into ticket prices in the UK and Europe. There’s a lot of pages to get through but in summary it seems that the comparison is made between “Middle Distance Commuter Band” annual season tickets. For Manchester, these are journeys from stations such as Bolton, Wigan, Macclesfield, Blackburn and Warrington; and the Parisian equivalents are Juvisy, Aulnay-Sous-Bois, Sartrouville, Versailles-Chantiers and Massy-Palaiseau – all stations on the RER commuter rail system, on which London’s Crossrail scheme models itself.

One striking difference between the French and British examples is that all the Parisian commuting examples seem to fall within the Île-de-France ticketing zone, whilst their Mancunian counterparts do not all fall under the jurisdiction of GMPTE. Is it therefore an accident of political history that average train fares into Manchester city centre are pushed higher due to the peculiarities of the county borders, and the comparative lack of public funding for transport within the surrounding shire counties and unitary authorities? Below is an unscientific analysis of the ticket prices researched by Passenger Focus (GMPTE stations highlighted in grey), along with a few other selected locations around the fringes of the Manchester city region.

Station Journey time (minutes) Annual season ticket price
Express Local
Alderley Edge 30 49 £1584
Bolton 15 26 £796
Blackburn 49 56 £1452
Buxton 51 61 £2308
Chorley 27 47 £1512
Knutsford n/a 47 £1384
Macclesfield 26 37 £1992 *
Warrington 25 39 £1356
Wigan 38 46 £900 ♥
Wilmslow 22 46 £1148 ◊

* Virgin Trains only season ticket available for £1496
Annual County Card ticket – valid on most buses and trains within Greater Manchester, also on city centre Metrolink
◊ Virgin Trains only season ticket available for £864

Travel times derived from Northern Rail Summer 2010 timetables on weekday journeys scheduled to arrive into Manchester city centre by 0900, prices obtained from National Rail season ticket calculator, August 2010

There are some strange anomalies in the table. A season ticket from Wigan effectively allows travel on any bus or train in Greater Manchester, whilst all other examples are point-to-point season tickets – indeed, the County Card is available for all stations within GMPTE-land. Outside those county borders, although Alderley Edge is only 3 minutes further away from Manchester than Wilmslow you’ll pay an extra £400 for an annual season ticket. And if you’re prepared to restrict yourself only to Virgin Trains’ express services – surely a more attractive proposition than the local all-stations stopper – you can save £300 on the Wilmslow season ticket, and a staggering £500 from Macclesfield!

Is it time to give the responsibilities of the two Lancastrian Passenger Transport Executives (GMPTE and Merseytravel) over to a North West Regional Transport Body that might be able to solve the relatively poor value of cross-boundary rail season tickets? Given the big cities’ desire to influence the rest of the north west region, surely more cost-effective travel into those centres should be forthcoming? Or would voters in the shire counties revolt at the concept of an increased council tax contribution to help fund such developments?

[Image credit: “Fail ticket” by Handolio on Flickr]

Apologies to anyone confused by the botched early publishing of the unfinished article!

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About James McCollom

Web geek and public transport user
This entry was posted in Trains. Bookmark the permalink.

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