Worst Opinion of the Week: Get Back to Work But Also Take This Hike in Train Fares

With the economy receding faster than Matt Hancock’s hairline, the long-suffering public were dealt another financial blow this week.
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by NEO
Woman in mask using London underground
Photo: Christopher Bethell
Welcome to Worst Hot Take of the Week – a column in which @MULLET_FAN_NEO crowns the wildest hot take of the week.

Story: As COVID-19 plunges the UK into the deepest recession since records began, every government scheme so far has proven to be a band aid over the open wound of a fundamentally broken society.
Reasonable take: Seems like urgent reform is needed if the general public is to have a basic standard of living in this country going forward.
Brain rot: Fuck it, give them a discount voucher for All Bar One and up the train fares by 1.6 percent.

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The government’s ability to read the room remains as heedless as a coked up distant cousin trying to involve you in an Aloe Vera night-cream pyramid scheme at your father’s wake. With millions out of work and the economy receding faster than Matt Hancock’s hairline, Britain’s long-suffering rail passengers were informed this week that they will face a 1.6 percent increase on fares in January, despite crashing commuter numbers (for obvious reasons).

Pressure has been mounting from campaigners and unions, who have urged the UK government to scrap their policy of an annual increase on fares – a practice that has ensured that ticket hikes have outpaced wage rises over the past decade.

It’s fucking typical that in Britain we have public infrastructure that constrains rather than enables the workforce. Piss poor transport links across the UK have acted as an employment barrier for low-income families for too long, with an estimated 21 million households in “transport poverty” – meaning more than 10 percent of their expenditure goes on commuting.

All summer, Rishi Sunak has been portrayed as the reincarnation of Nye Bevan for giving us half price off Harvester for 12 days during August, but when an opportunity presents itself to implement some genuinely transformative ideas to reinvigorate the economy and get Britain “back to work” by, I don’t know, freezing inflation at least, there’s no ideas, or cash, in the bank.

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Quite impressively, Britain’s once revered and loved railways are now so unpopular that a YouGov poll from 2017 – when there was not a pandemic on and things were slightly cheaper – put public support for nationalisation at a majority of 56 percent to 15 percent. In short: regardless of where you sit on the political spectrum, you almost certainly think the trains are shite.

While I’m keenly aware that, given the option, Britain would vote to bring back World War II, I can’t help but feel this level of unity over something that doesn’t involve warships in the Channel should be given closer attention.

Somehow, as a nation, we’ve ignored the fact that even Margate Thatcher thought the privatisation of the railways was a step too far. I mean, surely the whole “free market capitalism” argument only works when there is competition. What fucking enterprise duel is there to be had on single a set of train tracks? It’s hardly like some cunt can turn up with a carriage early on a Monday morning and start offering a better, more efficient service without getting a life tariff under the Terrorism Act.

Everything within the capitalist instruction manual (i.e. what I’ve learned off The Apprentice) informs us that throwing money at badly run business models and ignoring lousy performance is doomed for failure, and yet here we are, expected to quietly accept and pay for this swollen arsehole of a service as though it’s an exception to the rule.

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Instead of building infrastructure to effectively connect the UK, grow local and national economies and heal the planet, we’re being forced into a perpetual life of delays, overcrowding, polluted air and extortionate fares because the franchising of the railways is the second biggest money printing operation after the Royal Mint for billionaire grifters like Richard Branson.

Even the Fat Controller had more dignity than this when allowing Thomas and his fuck around friends to endlessly take the piss on Sodor.

If the trains operated this badly within public ownership they would, correctly, become an unavoidable topic of discussion in every newspaper and political programme to the point where its continuation would become untenable. Our priorities are so desperately askew that it is cheaper to commute by flight in most cases.

I would say Britain is “living in the past” but, as maps of our train networking pre-Beeching cuts shows us, we once had a healthy interconnected networks of railway veins running throughout the country, so it seems we would be decidedly better off there.

I can’t help but feel all public transport in the UK has been designed to radicalise you against public transport and push you into cars. That is, except in London, where the biggest issue is the delay and rising costs of Crossrail, intended to do the very important job of shuttling people from Essex into the city at rapid speed.

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There’s a good reason London’s world class public transport wasn’t handed over to the railroad bandits. Those in power knew full well that the city would have become a sprawling, un-traversable mess without it. But while London has dodged this Branson-shaped bullet, the rest of the UK has to contest with transport links decidedly worse than half a century ago; literally rattling around on diesel-chugging, shitbox carriages as if we’re riding in a horse towed wagon on some rocky road to work like some Victorian cunt.

Arguably the finest example of transport inequality in the UK is my hometown of Merthyr Tydfil, literally the birthplace of world’s first ever train, where residents were casually informed at the beginning of August that “evening train services are to be replaced by buses for nine months” as they work on the line.

These farcically slow to improvements at least offer commuters a crumb of dignity about having their pockets picked by railway companies on the daily, but for every minor improvement there is a story like the Tories vetoing the electrification of the track between Swansea and Cardiff because it didn’t represent “value for money” – a tale of neglect that is echoed throughout most regions of the UK, highlighting the lack of serious effort to modernise our networks, share prosperity and depollute our planet.

The recent decision to freeze fuel duty for motorists but continue to extort those who use public transport proves beyond a shadow of doubt it’s all lip service.

One of the most frustrating aspects of these fare hikes, though, is how obvious it has become during the pandemic that our key workers remain among lowest paid members of society, the first back to work, and the most beholden to public transport to get there. Meanwhile, those who can comfortably afford the trains are office cunts on far better wages who have proven they can comfortably work from home in the first place.

For most people in the UK the story remains the same: the quality of everything free-falls, while the cost of everything sky rockets for no discernible reason.

@MULLETFANNEO