Posted 20th September 2011 | 6 Comments
Transport secretary rebuked for 'rich man's toy' remark
THE train operators' association ATOC has hit back at transport secretary Philip Hammond after he told a committee of MPs that railways are a 'rich man's toy'.
ATOC chief Michael Roberts has urged Mr Hammond to pay more attention to his brief.
Mr Hammond's comments came while he was being questioned on 13 September by the House of Commons transport committee about the proposals for HS2.
When the discussion turned to the likely level of fares, Labour MP Julie Hilling wondered whether the new High Speed line between London, Birmingham and the north would become a 'rich person's toy', which would not be available to 'people of low or moderate means', to which he replied: "Uncomfortable fact number one is that the railway is already relatively a rich man's toy.
"People who use the railway on average have significantly higher incomes than the population as a whole – simple fact."
He added that it was assumed that travelling on High Speed 2 would cost about the same as the West Coast Main Line, "which I have said before ranges from eye-wateringly expensive to really quite reasonable, if you dig around and use the advance purchase ticket options that are available".
Mr Hammond later admitted that he might have dealt with the question 'slightly flippantly', but he has been the target of industry criticism for making the remarks at all.
Stephen Joseph of the pressure group Campaign for Better Transport responded that railways are also "vital for many of those on more moderate incomes who need to get to work, and the government will price many off the railways if it carries on with its plan to increases rail fares at three per cent above inflation".
The Association of Train Operating Companies had defended fare increases as a way of raising additional money needed for railway investment, but now it has joined the fray.
Its chief executive Michael Roberts told a fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrat Party Conference that 30 per cent of season ticket holders were on average incomes, while others, such as pensioners, young people and members of the armed forces, were all getting significant discounts on their travel.
Mr Roberts said: "Philip Hammond needs to read his brief a bit more closely before making these kind of comments. I think it is a fantastic deal for the amount of money we put in. We need to make that deal better and get our costs down."
Meanwhile, LibDem transport minister Norman Baker has told a meeting in Birmingham that he wants to see fares fall. "I don't like fares going up. As soon as we can get off RPI plus the better," he said.
Fares are set to rise by an average of RPI + 3 per cent in the first week of January, which will mean a general increase of 8 per cent. The rises may be greater or lower on some routes, so long as railway companies maintain an average of 8 per cent for their 'regulated' fares. These include most season tickets.
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