Sunday, 7 February 2010

Are you listening, Richard Branson?

With climate change looming over us, one thing we must achieve is to shift our transport system from private and polluting to public and green. I am not alone in valuing the freedom and flexibility I get from owning a car. But there are plenty of occasions when I would rather let the 'train take the strain', and other occasions when would if I could.

To have the freedom to jump onto any weekday Virgin train from Birmingham to London will cost an eye-watering £140 return! Avoiding the rush hour used to be a way of getting the cost down to something that didn't require a second mortgage. But not only have the prices gone up, the 'peak' hours have been extended.

As a society, we need more people to swap their car for the train. But we then hand over our train network to private companies whose first concern is getting a return for their shareholders. The end result is a pricing system that seems to be deliberately designed to force us onto the roads.

The first off-peak Virgin train from Birmingham New Street to London is now as late as 10.10am – not getting into Euston until 11.34. A short day trip isn't so easy either – to get a reasonable fare you'll have to hang around until 19.03 and won't be home until 20.27. And when you do get on a Virgin train, it is not uncommon to find the standard carriages packed and the first class ones practically empty. They always give you the option of upgrading to first class of course – for an extra £15.

When my children ask to visit their cousins in London, I'll be counting the cost before giving my answer. Surely, any rational approach to transport should be based on making it as easy as possible for all of us to use less polluting alternatives? Tell that to Virgin Trains.