Road vs Rail pricing

jthjth

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This is a letter in today’s Times. Although aimed at the current discussion on possible road pricing, it rather sums up nicely what is wrong with present day rail ticketing.
“Sir, If road pricing is to be introduced (letters, Nov 17) the system should mirror that experienced by rail users: as complex and incomprehensible as possible. For instance, a single journey would be almost the same as a return; routes between destinations would allow no deviations. Missing one’s slot or being on the wrong road at the wrong time would incur wrath, public humiliation, a demand to pay the full fare, a penalty charge and threat of a court summons. Maybe competing private companies would be set up with their own rules, fares and charges. All this could mean there’d be hundreds of different charges for a simple journey. What fun!”
 
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Bletchleyite

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You jest, but Germany introduced a lorry road pricing scheme a while ago ("LKW-Maut") which mandates booking of the exact route (motorway parts) in advance!

Edit: seems they now have a tag option to avoid booking.
 

WesternLancer

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This is a letter in today’s Times. Although aimed at the current discussion on possible road pricing, it rather sums up nicely what is wrong with present day rail ticketing.
“Sir, If road pricing is to be introduced (letters, Nov 17) the system should mirror that experienced by rail users: as complex and incomprehensible as possible. For instance, a single journey would be almost the same as a return; routes between destinations would allow no deviations. Missing one’s slot or being on the wrong road at the wrong time would incur wrath, public humiliation, a demand to pay the full fare, a penalty charge and threat of a court summons. Maybe competing private companies would be set up with their own rules, fares and charges. All this could mean there’d be hundreds of different charges for a simple journey. What fun!”
Nicely put!

I have to say, it has always seemed to me that there would be little point in road pricing unless it was combined with some element of 'demand management' to the pricing. After all, like seats on a train road space is finite and the resource could be better allocated if there was some incentive (beyond avoiding being stuck in a jam) if people could be moved towards use of the space at less busy times. Of course always winners and losers in this sort of thing and it will take a bold set of politicians to implement anything.
 

island

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We may laugh at first class road pricing, and perhaps we should, but there are some examples in the USA and possibly elsewhere of differential pricing by lane on the same road.
 

miami

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beyond avoiding being stuck in a jam

Which is quite a progressive system - everyone is stuck in the same jam, no matter if you're on £500k a year driving a merc, or a teacher on £25k a year in a 15 year old corsa. The cost of the time wasted is higher for the merc driver.

Similarly everyone is crammed on a rush hour train into manchester, unless there's a first class section to allow the £500k a year passenger to get away from the riffraff.

I do like the idea of making the trains more egalitarian. Anyone travelling at rush hour will suffer the same, no need for more expensive fares there to 'manage demand'. The idea behind 'advanced' fares could be thrown away too.

Sadly every move to 'simplify' rail fares is to reduce flexibility and try to make a 50 minute train ride equivelent to a transatlantic plane ride. The solution isn't to make cars worse, it's to make trains better. Get back to the norm of walk up fares, get rid of railcards.

We may laugh at first class road pricing, and perhaps we should, but there are some examples in the USA and possibly elsewhere of differential pricing by lane on the same road.

The M6 Toll
 

TUC

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Or to put it another way, a system which, although with complexities in how it is built up, is perfectly capable of being simple to use if people take advantage of modern technology instead of living in the 1970s.
 

miami

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if people take advantage of modern technology instead of living in the 1970s.

Rail pricing is not at all simple to use, and the penalties for being wrong are extreme.

Take a wrong turning when driving, or go out at the wrong time, and you are delayed.

Get on the wrong train and you end up in court.
 

island

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Rail pricing is not at all simple to use, and the penalties for being wrong are extreme.

Take a wrong turning when driving, or go out at the wrong time, and you are delayed.

Get on the wrong train and you end up in court.
Plenty of roads where taking a wrong turn can get you a £130 fine in the post too.
 

miami

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Very occasionally. You are keen to over dramatise this.

"Missing one’s slot or being on the wrong road at the wrong time would incur wrath, public humiliation, a demand to pay the full fare, a penalty charge and threat of a court summons"

That's not me.

30 years ago the norm was to walk upto counter, buy return ticket, board train to destination, get on a train, get a train back later that day. If you didn't have a ticket, you bought it on the train.

Since then extra restrictions were piled on to limit what trains you can actually take with your ticket, and time and again staff make up their own rules.

All of this adds to the view of thinking the tailway is a aloof out of touch hostile distress purchase.


Has anybody ever sat on the wrong train by mistakie without realizing it until the ticket got checked and then got fined a hefty £ 119.50 for having done nothing more than misreading the time on the ticket and getting on the wrong train? The departure time on my ticket read 15:40 whilst I had it in my mind that it was 14:40. I only found out that I was on the wrong train when I had to show my ticket. When I was fined a whooping £ 119.50, I felt furious and taken advantage of. I made a small mistake, nobody came to harm (the train was about three quarters empty - which made the whole situation even more pathetic) - and now they try to squeeze the most out of me. Disgusting is too tame a word to describe such behaviour. Has anybody else been in a similar situation?

This is the sort of event that turns people off. If you leave an hour early in your car you may end up in heavier traffic.

While some rail fans may want to bring other forms of travel down to the terrible level that is the unbalanced profit-seeking rule-heavy railway, I'd rather see it the other way - so that the railway is as friendly and easy a method to travel as the car currently is.

Of course the fundamental problem is that car drivers spend more money in taxes than they cost, but rail passengers don't even cover their costs.
 

WesternLancer

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"Missing one’s slot or being on the wrong road at the wrong time would incur wrath, public humiliation, a demand to pay the full fare, a penalty charge and threat of a court summons"

That's not me.

30 years ago the norm was to walk upto counter, buy return ticket, board train to destination, get on a train, get a train back later that day. If you didn't have a ticket, you bought it on the train.

Since then extra restrictions were piled on to limit what trains you can actually take with your ticket, and time and again staff make up their own rules.

All of this adds to the view of thinking the tailway is a aloof out of touch hostile distress purchase.




This is the sort of event that turns people off. If you leave an hour early in your car you may end up in heavier traffic.

While some rail fans may want to bring other forms of travel down to the terrible level that is the unbalanced profit-seeking rule-heavy railway, I'd rather see it the other way - so that the railway is as friendly and easy a method to travel as the car currently is.

Of course the fundamental problem is that car drivers spend more money in taxes than they cost, but rail passengers don't even cover their costs.
Good post, but this

"Of course the fundamental problem is that car drivers spend more money in taxes than they cost,"

I think is hotly debated in some quarters. I think fair to say that many drivers do believe they pay more taxes than they cost however....:|
 

Haywain

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"Missing one’s slot or being on the wrong road at the wrong time would incur wrath, public humiliation, a demand to pay the full fare, a penalty charge and threat of a court summons"

That's not me.

30 years ago the norm was to walk upto counter, buy return ticket, board train to destination, get on a train, get a train back later that day. If you didn't have a ticket, you bought it on the train.

Since then extra restrictions were piled on to limit what trains you can actually take with your ticket, and time and again staff make up their own rules.

All of this adds to the view of thinking the tailway is a aloof out of touch hostile distress purchase.




This is the sort of event that turns people off. If you leave an hour early in your car you may end up in heavier traffic.

While some rail fans may want to bring other forms of travel down to the terrible level that is the unbalanced profit-seeking rule-heavy railway, I'd rather see it the other way - so that the railway is as friendly and easy a method to travel as the car currently is.

Of course the fundamental problem is that car drivers spend more money in taxes than they cost, but rail passengers don't even cover their costs.
None of which refers to ending up in court (or actually being fined, which is rather different to being asked to pay the fare for the journey). As for the nonsense of car drivers spending more in taxes than they cost...
 

biko

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While some rail fans may want to bring other forms of travel down to the terrible level that is the unbalanced profit-seeking rule-heavy railway, I'd rather see it the other way - so that the railway is as friendly and easy a method to travel as the car currently is.
Road pricing should not be used as a tool to make driving more complex or as a new tax, its main goal should be to charge drivers in a fairer way. So that means charging driving in the city more than in the countryside (because of a lack of alternatives / opportunities) and charging more at busy moments to remove congestion and thus pollution, travel time losses and other externalities. It also gives many opportunities to apply discounts to disadvanged groups. That it can be used to replace current road taxes is just a nice side effect, but it should be designed as an improvement in the first place. Therefore I would make it relatively simple by having a basic mileage price with extra charges when entering a city centre or when using main roads / motorways. The locations where this applies can be included in satnavs and signs can indicate that you enter a zone.

Railway pricing could be made simpler at the same time, maybe even encouraging more people to travel by public transport where possible. But by charging car drivers according to the impact they have on the environment (as road pricing can do if correctly implemented), it will help a modal shift much better than just reducing the complexity of the fares system.
 

WesternLancer

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Road pricing should not be used as a tool to make driving more complex or as a new tax, its main goal should be to charge drivers in a fairer way. So that means charging driving in the city more than in the countryside (because of a lack of alternatives / opportunities) and charging more at busy moments to remove congestion and thus pollution, travel time losses and other externalities. It also gives many opportunities to apply discounts to disadvanged groups. That it can be used to replace current road taxes is just a nice side effect, but it should be designed as an improvement in the first place. Therefore I would make it relatively simple by having a basic mileage price with extra charges when entering a city centre or when using main roads / motorways. The locations where this applies can be included in satnavs and signs can indicate that you enter a zone.

Railway pricing could be made simpler at the same time, maybe even encouraging more people to travel by public transport where possible. But by charging car drivers according to the impact they have on the environment (as road pricing can do if correctly implemented), it will help a modal shift much better than just reducing the complexity of the fares system.
Yes, current road related taxation is crude in some ways, so apart from petrol, a lot of it is 'up front fixed rate' so once you have paid it - eg VED (tho now possible to get lower VED with lower emmission vehicles) you may as well use your car a lot more. So given that I, for example, opt to use public transport as I like it, does not make as much sense as using my car in taxation terms.
 

miami

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Yes, current road related taxation is crude in some ways, so apart from petrol, a lot of it is 'up front fixed rate' so once you have paid it -

The railway has an upfront charge, but charging for railcards makes no sense for me. Give them for free, perhaps with a free ticket for the first use. For me to go to Shrewsbury on the train on a pre-covid Sunday with the family it costs £35 return and limits me to a train every 2 hours. It's well under £10 in petrol and other marginal costs, and £4 to park.

You'd have to have (on top of petrol tax) road charging of over 30p a mile before the (subsidised) train became economic, and even then it's a mile walk to the station, a train every 2 hours, just not worthwhile, I'd still drive, or I wouldn't go.

I could choose to buy a family railcard for £30 or whatever, and then get a small discount on the train fare, but that would require me to invest a fortune on the off chance that I'll spend £100s a year on railway journeys with the family. The railway does seem to dislike spontaneity.

Why would they not simply offer that railcard for free? Doesn't cost anything if you don't use it. If you do use it, then you're getting more passengers.

Or even better: Why not offer something like "take the family for free", and just charge the off peak return of £12, especially at the weekends on short trips. After all road prices are the same whether I have 1 person of 4 people in the car.
 

Bletchleyite

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The railway has an upfront charge, but charging for railcards makes no sense for me.

I have wondered if the "group" Railcards should be replaced with a simple discount scheme of 33% off any non-season fare if a party of 2 or more adults plus any number of children books together and travels together throughout. This would better reflect the way fuel costs work in a car.

The "entitlement" Railcards are probably needed because it's hard to prove you have a disability "on the move" or that you are a student, under 26 etc with the UK not having a "registered disabled" scheme like Germany nor national ID cards. The cost of doing them for nowt wouldn't be high, though.

There could also be a "National Railcard" where someone who doesn't fall into one of those could pay a (fairly high) monthly or annual fee to get that discount when travelling alone. £10/month direct debit would seem a sweet point to me, but it would need calculating properly.
 
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Bletchleyite

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Unless you have a very old and very cheap car I struggle to believe you are genuinely taking into account the marginal costs.

He said marginal costs. To the vast majority of people, the fixed costs of car ownership (monthly finance payment[1], annual service[2]) are a "membership fee" to the lifestyle "club" of car ownership. It is a total fallacy to calculate them as a per-mile figure because near enough nobody models car purchase and use in that manner, and anyone who persists in arguing it that way to work out how to price public transport will just find themselves carrying fresh air in their train or bus.

The marginal cost of an additional car journey is fuel, any parking fee that might apply, plus a few pence towards brake replacement, which provided you don't drive aggressively will last a couple of years and provided you don't make the error of having them done at a main dealer are cheap anyway.

[1] Or random periodic repairs if you are running an older car into the ground.
[2] The mileage period for a service these days is typically 12500, 15000 or even 20000 miles or annual, with a few being 2 yearly. This means most people won't hit the mileage figure and so it is simply an annual cost.
 

Haywain

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He said marginal costs. To the vast majority of people, the fixed costs of car ownership (monthly finance payment[1], annual service[2]) are a "membership fee" to the lifestyle "club" of car ownership. It is a total fallacy to calculate them as a per-mile figure because near enough nobody models car purchase and use in that manner, and anyone who persists in arguing it that way to work out how to price public transport will just find themselves carrying fresh air in their train or bus.

The marginal cost of an additional car journey is fuel, any parking fee that might apply, plus a few pence towards brake replacement, which provided you don't drive aggressively will last a couple of years and provided you don't make the error of having them done at a main dealer are cheap anyway.

[1] Or random periodic repairs if you are running an older car into the ground.
[2] The mileage period for a service these days is typically 12500, 15000 or even 20000 miles or annual, with a few being 2 yearly. This means most people won't hit the mileage figure and so it is simply an annual cost.
Fair enough, but you back up my point that it doesn't account for the real costs of car ownership and usage.
 

Bletchleyite

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Fair enough, but you back up my point that it doesn't account for the real costs of car ownership and usage.

It doesn't, but why should it? Do you have a Railcard? If so, do you calculate it onto the cost of each journey? I bet almost nobody does. People speak as if that "membership fee + per mile" cost model is somehow wrong - it's not - it's what most people do and it's why Railcards work. Or indeed other similar models like Amazon Prime.
 

PeterC

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Fair enough, but you back up my point that it doesn't account for the real costs of car ownership and usage.
It depends if you are car owner makiing the choice to leave the car in the garage and use public transport or a public transport user wishihg to switch to car.

Once you have the car the marginal cost of a journey is petrol and parking and a penny or two for wear and tear which most drivers will ignore.

Apart from the stupidly cheap off peak fares on London Underground it is hardly ever cost effective for me to switch to rail for any journey that I might make. Even then the cost of station parking can tip the balance in favour of the car.
 

Bletchleyite

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Insurance , servicing,tyres, car club membership (www.ttoc.co.uk)

Insurance is a "membership fee" paid usually monthly. Mileage does impact it but not greatly.
Servicing is mostly annual.
I'll give you tyres, but they need replacing so infrequently that most people won't associate it with a marginal journey any more than they do brakes, though they certainly need changing more often if you drive aggressively.
Car club is not necessary for driving and so cannot be associated with the costs of driving in any form.
 

Bletchleyite

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It depends if you are car owner makiing the choice to leave the car in the garage and use public transport or a public transport user wishihg to switch to car.

It doesn't even depend on that. Literally nobody considers all-in car usage as a simple per-mile figure. It's only of any relevance for HMRC to calculate what should be taxed.

It isn't even worthy of discussion because it's a total fallacy.

The marginal cost of using a car once you've already decided to have one is little more than the fuel, and to succeed in its pricing models public transport needs to "get" that and accept it whether it likes it or not. It is not going to change. Even with car clubs it won't, you pay a membership fee plus a distance based usage fee.

Insurance, depreciation are the biggest costs. There seems to be a blindness about the latter amongst many car owners, but it is a very real cost.

It isn't a per-mile cost, though, and literally nobody ascribes it that way, and you can totally forget them doing so because it is not going to happen under any circumstances ever.

The only figure most people care about in terms of the cost of ownership on its own is the monthly finance payment. This is effectively a monthly "convenience fee" of car ownership. There are a few slightly different models for this - PCP, lease, personal loan - but they all basically give the same principle - a pretty much fixed monthly price for the convenience of owning a car and having it sitting waiting for you whenever you want it.

Accept it and move on. However much you shout about it, you will not change this fact.
 

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