Would You Rather: Cheap, Shit Trains, or Expensive, Good Trains?

Because let's face it: in the UK, you're never getting a cheap, good train service ever again.

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04 January 2019, 12:12pm

Photo: VICE

Public anger was momentarily diverted from the perils of Brexit this week toward another shambles: the state of Britain's trains. Despite reports last month of fares from London to Manchester costing more than flights to New York, things are set to worsen for commuters, with a rude start to 2019 seeing the introduction of a 3.1 percent average fare increase. What's more, overcrowding is at a record high: the busiest routes are now operating at near double capacity, according to a study from the Labour party.

As debates rage on, I asked the public and some disgruntled passengers if they would rather have slightly more expensive, but actually good, trains; or cheap but a clearly shit service – because we're way beyond anything both affordable and reliable.

John, 23

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VICE: Would you rather cheap overcrowded trains, or expensive trains with more room?
John: A selection between the two in different carriages would be nice. But if I had to pick one, cheaper but more crowded, because it needs to be more accessible to people.

Do you think the railways should be re-nationalised?
Absolutely. So much of the stuff the government sold out on needs to re-nationalise. I think the government needs to step in and regulate it and set maximum prices, especially for economy seats. For first class, fine: charge whatever, provide what you like, like an airline. For economy, it needs to be cheap and affordable, because that’s the people’s transport network, and right now it’s only for the people who earn a massive amount of money travelling into central London able to afford it. For everyone else, it’s incredibly expensive. It rules out loads of lifestyles.

Why are the problems surrounding trains getting worse?
That’s what Brexit really did. It’s not like we had no issues prior to Brexit, but we’ve just spent the past two years talking exclusively about Brexit.

Tahbo, 28 and Ella, 23

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Would you rather cheap overcrowded trains, or expensive trains with more room?
Tahbo: My main problem isn’t with either of those things, really. I’m more concerned with trains being on time and available. But I’d rather cheaper trains, which are more crowded, if they were running on time.
Ella: I’m not willing to pay more. Even when the trains aren't crowded, I still find them hideously expensive.

Have you had bad experiences with overcrowded trains?
Tahbo: I've been doing long distance with my girlfriend for about six years – she’s in Glasgow and I’m in Nottingham. I don’t want to exaggerate, but almost every journey has been that way. Standing up is not that bad, unless you’ve been delayed for two hours. In which case, you’re there for two more hours.
Ella: When I was coming back from Christmas for New Year, I had to stand the whole way, and that was just from Swindon.

Do you think the railways should be re-nationalised?
Tahbo: I think both have the capacity to fuck up. I don’t think it could be as bad as it is now if it was nationalised. It is getting ridiculous.

Why do you think trains are getting more expensive, but also much worse?
Tahbo: It must be to do with the way they’re putting the contract up for tender – they’re doing it for the wrong people. I think it’s the way the government offers the train bosses a contract, and guarantees them a profit. If you guarantee someone a profit, they don’t have to do their job. Why would you improve the service if you know you’re going to make a certain bottom line?
Ella: There is a lot of disparity between different train companies. If they want people to use public transport more, they need to make it more accessible.

Hannah, 25

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Would you rather cheap overcrowded trains, or expensive trains with more room?
Hannah: I’d rather it was cheaper, but if I used trains every day I’d probably want more room.

Do you think the railways should be re-nationalised?
Yes, I do. It just seems to be getting worse and worse. Trains are never on time; there always seems to be something going wrong with it; it’s getting more expensive, even though the service is getting worse. I used to live in Madrid, and often it was cheaper to get a return from Madrid than a train within the UK.

What do you have to say to train bosses?
Just make it less shit.

Have you had any particularly bad experiences on trains?
Once, my boyfriend and me had to stand for the whole of a three-hour journey when he’d injured his knee. He made them give him his money back.

Shev, over 30

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Would you rather cheap overcrowded trains, or expensive trains with more room?
Shev: I'd rather they were more expensive, if it meant more frequent and less crowded.

Have you had some bad experiences with overcrowded trains?
Unless you have a valid first class ticket, you have to get a standard ticket, and sometimes it’s just unbearable. I’ve seen a couple of fights break out, some bad arguments.

Do you think trains should be nationalised?
Yes, I think that'd help enormously.

What would you say to the train bosses?
Get a standard price ticket and travel on one of these trains at rush hour. See what happens.

How bad do you think the problem is?
At the beginning of last year, with the change of timetable, it was just mayhem. Trains running when they’re not supposed to be running, other trains that weren’t running when they should’ve been, plus the price increase. I’m surprised [transport minister] Chris Grayling is still in his job.

Why are trains getting more expensive and still worse?
People can’t find an alternative way to travel. If they have a captive audience, then people are held to ransom.

Holly, 25 and David, 30

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Would you rather cheap overcrowded trains, or expensive trains with more room?
David: I would prefer lower fares, because the prices have been going up. I’ve usually gotten a seat going into Glasgow from London – but the prices are a bit much, I think, so I don’t usually get the train.
Holly: I'd rather it be cheaper and more crowded.

Do you prefer to fly down then?
Holly: Yeah. We got a train in March to London and it was over £110. When we flew down, just this time, it was only £30. The train is around four-and-a-half hours for three times the price.
David: The flight is definitely a lot cheaper. It only takes an hour maximum on the plane.

Would you consider getting the train over flying if it was cheaper?
Holly: Yeah, for sure, because we also have to pay for a taxi from our house to the airport, which is £30.
David: If the train worked out cheaper, we’d definitely go for that more.

What would you say to train bosses?
Holly: Lower the price, because wages aren’t going up. Take into consideration the working class.

Do you think the railways should be re-nationalised?
David: I think the more things that are nationalised, the better. The government can regulate it more accurately, and it’s not just a way of making more money for the benefit of corporations.

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