Our dear Secretary of State for Transport Philip Hammond said something to the House of Commons Transport Select Committee yesterday, and the BBC decided that it was The News. I don’t think Hammond had intended for it to be The News. He said:
It’s an uncomfortable fact that the railway is already, relatively, a rich man’s toy*. The whole railway. People who use the railway, on average, have significantly higher incomes than the population as a whole. Simple fact. The assumptions underlying the pattern of use of HS2 assume similar pricing to the West Coast Main Line, which ranges from eye-wateringly expensive to really quite reasonable if you dig around and buy in advance. And therefore the assumption that the socio-economic mix of passengers will be broadly similar to those currently using the West Coast Main Line.
Nobody is really commenting on the fact that Hammond was not merely saying that people are priced off the railways, but that it doesn’t matter if people are priced off HS2 because they’re already priced off the railways. I would have thought that The News would have wanted to play up the HS2 connection.
But people are questioning whether it’s really true that train users are rich. It sounds like a convenient setup for bashing railways and promoting roads: the poor can’t afford to use railways, therefore anybody who wants decent, affordable railways is an enemy of the poor. Spend all the money on more road
subsidies investment and fuel tax cuts instead.
I’m afraid it’s true. The National Travel Survey gives us information on modal usage and split by income quintile for a sample of the population:
(image nicked from Fairness in a car dependent society [PDF])
The railways really are being used by the rich a lot more than by the poor** — about four times as much.
(image nicked from the centre for cities)
5% of those in the highest income group use rail as their main transport mode, compared to 2% for those in the lowest income group.*** But, wait, there’s another difference between those two groups, isn’t there? It turns out that the motor car is a rich person’s toy too. Poop- poop!
But the NTS reveals something else:
(image nicked from Harry Rutter’s Street Talk)
Travel is a rich person’s toy, and that makes better employment opportunities and services a rich person’s toy.
One of the best ways to overcome that is to invest in local transport, and in local transport that anybody can afford and always will be able to afford; the sort of local transport that will stimulate town centre renewal rather than further drive decline. The bicycle, for example.
Of course, Hammond thinks that investment in transport for the rich is good for all of us: the company director who jumps on HS2 for the Channel Tunnel or Heathrow will be employing lots of people at all levels in Manchester or Leeds. Allegedly. I suspect he’s maybe more likely to be visiting his contractors in the far east, or his accountant in Switzerland.
* This was a quote from the question he had been asked by Julie Hilling, in turn a slogan used by the anti-HS2 campaigners.
** Yes, “the railways really are being used by the rich a lot more than by the poor” is subtly different to Hammond’s claim that “people who use the railway, on average, have significantly higher incomes than the population as a whole” — the former is about distance, the latter about users. One rich person doing the length of the UK would, by my metric, have used the railway considerably more than a dozen poor people popping into their town centres. If you can find better data, do share.
*** Thanks to Tom for pointing out the mistake in original wording here.