Monday, November 25, 2013

Standing room only? Another 'interesting' idea from the Institute for Economic Affairs...

Picking up my copy of the Times this morning, my eyes were drawn to a small teaser on the front page, indicating that Ministers are being pressed to allow train companies to reintroduce third-class "standing only" train carriages as a cheap way to increase capacity.

As a retired South Londoner (as in, I don't live there any more), I remember spending most of my time standing on trains anyway, and then standing on the Underground having reached a London terminus. Accordingly, I turned to the piece, on page 11, expecting the worst. I wasn't disappointed.

Given the tendency of the Institute of Economic Affairs to promote some mildly wacky ideas and overstate support for them, I was not surprised to find that this was one of their efforts. Dr Richard Wellings, the author of the report, has a PhD in transport and environmental policy, which is all very nice, but doesn't necessarily demonstrate any practical experience of running a railway.

Apparently, many commuters on shorter journeys already choose to stand even if seats are available, according to Dr Wellings, so positioning three standing-only carriages at the front of commuter trains would provide a valued service. They could be described as 'third-class', with fares to match, he suggests.

I find myself wondering how far-reaching his research was - perhaps no further than talking to his (probably) relatively youthful, in a hurry, workmates. I also find myself wondering what his knowledge of suburban rail travel is, as any hardened commuter over the age of, say, thirty-five will tell you that they tend to seek the comfort of a seat if one is available, and their journey is long enough.

Given a little time, and if I cared enough to trash such nonsense, I could come up with half a dozen reasons why the proposal is merely a desperate attempt to draw attention - safety, infrastructure, rolling stock layout, accessibility, fare evasion risks come readily to mind - but, luckily, the response of the Government is, apparently, to consider the proposal to be "a bizarre idea from the Westminster bubble". A government source (whatever that is) is quoted as saying;
It doesn't reflect what commuters in the real world want and it would be a step backwards.
I suspect that the same phrase could, with the word 'commuters' replaced by 'people', be efficently recycled to describe the Institute for Economic Affairs...

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