Over the last couple of days there have been several stories in the news, which have made me angry. The first was a story that I heard yesterday on the radio concerning Hertfordshire Police and the distribution of an e-mail that contained images of a black man being decapitated as he fled from police officers in the USA. The preoccupation of this story seemed to be whether the image was regarded as racist or not and the comments I heard on the radio were polarised as to whether it was or wasn't. To me though that line of argument completely missed the point. The more important fact here, was the fact that a number of people in the Police Force felt it appropriate to circulate what I feel are obscene images. Why would anyone wish to see a picture of man or for that matter a woman being decapitated? What perversion drives people to look at things like that? It is beyond belief that people would wish to forward such disgusting images to their colleagues.
What I found surprising that as a result of an internal investigation, no sackings were made, only reprimand's for the 100 or so staff both officers and civilians that were involved in circulating the e-mail. That I find unacceptable and sends completely the wrong message. To my mind any member of the Police Force who participated in sending this e-mail has lost the trust of the community and it must surely bring into question their integrity as serving officers. They should all have been sacked in my view for bringing the Force into disrepute, undermining the respect and position of authority that they hold and for me, above all else, for completely reprehensible and irresponsible actions.
I personally make a point at work of never sending on any e-mails, which contain non-work related content, whether they may be simply jokes or anything else. Most of the e-mails I receive containing non-work related content I never read and delete immediately. My work e-mail is not provided for my personal use, it is there for business purposes and I respect that the company expects me to use it responsibly as I am representing the company in any communications that I send.
The other story that has got my blood boiling both yesterday on the radio and in the papers is the hysterical reporting of the increase in rail fares planned from January. As usual, this annual event, provides an opportunity for the media to trot out the same lame attacks on the railways and to make erroneous and misleading comparisons between the costs of rail travel and other forms of transport.
The facts are as follows. The railways have two main sources of funding - the fare box (i.e. what we pay as passengers) and government funding (from the taxpayer). The government has decided that subsidy to the railways should reduce and therefore the industry has to raise more of its revenue through the fare box, meaning that fares are rising, in some instances somewhat above the rate of inflation. The other important point to bear in mind is that in the recent franchise awards for South West Trains and First Great Western both companies have agreed over the term of their franchises to pay the government premiums of more than £1 billion. There are clearly only two ways that such massive premiums can be delivered: reduce costs by cutting staff and services or increase revenue by raising fares. With more franchises to be re-let next year there is likely to be increasing pressure on both incumbent operators and new bidders to promise to make similar returns to government over the term of the new franchises.
Fares are divided into two categories - regulated fares and unregulated fares. Regulated fares account for about 40% of all tickets sold, such as season tickets and saver tickets and will rise by RPI + 1% or 4.3%. This is a formula agreed with the now defunct Strategic Rail Authority. Unregulated fares such as cheap day returns, long distance open tickets etc are set by the individual operators and some will rise by over 6%.
Looking at the operators that I most often use - this is the average increase for their unregulated fares from January 2007:
Virgin West Coast, 6.6%
Virgin Cross Country, 4.3%
Silverlink County, 4.3%
South West Trains, 5.3%
Central Trains, 5.7%
These are not massive increases and those for Virgin Cross Country and Silverlink County are in line with the increases for regulated fares.
It is also worth pointing out that only around 10% of all tickets sold are full price tickets (according to the Association of Train Operating Companies). Many rail companies offer advance purchase discounted tickets although the complexity of the system probably puts off many people from using these. Then there are also, depending on where you live, railcards available, which can save a 1/3 off the cost of fares.
Only recently I had a trip to Manchester - the return trip cost me £25 plus a £15 First Class supplement for the return trip, so total cost £40!
What the media also fail to mention is the massive investment that has gone into the railways and is on-going. Living on the West Coast Main Line, the evidence of that investment is everywhere to be seen. There are promises of a much improved service from 2008/2009 with major infrastructure improvements such as an additional platform at Milton Keynes Central, a new hourly service serving the Trent Valley, half-hourly services to Manchester and/or Liverpool and the promise of longer trains. Investment costs money and it has to be paid for. The disadvantage that rail has over the car, for example, is that the costs of rail travel are felt directly by the passenger whereas with a car many of the costs are deferred or are hidden.
I wish the media would stop bashing the railways with ill-informed reporting and got to the 'facts.' Even a little balance would be good from time to time!