22 November 2017
Today’s budget promises a few extra years of cheaper train travel for under 30s, as National Rail’s 16-25 railcard is being extended to age 30. At face value, this is good news. However we can’t ignore that rail travel is getting worse and more expensive, with the UK proudly wearing the badge of europe’s most expensive country to get around by rail, and train delays due to signalling errors, and other faults of National Rail, are not declining.
National Express’s railcard system is not watertight, however, with a lot of users citing its price and invalidity on peak time trains as some of it’s problems. The 16-25 railcard costs £30 per year, and whilst this can quickly made back by saving a third on train tickets, it’s still a hefty fee to pay for a card which is meant to save you money by virtue of being a certain age. There doesn’t seem to be any reason why you should have to even have a railcard - surely if National Rail’s motive was to give under 25s a third off their fares, they should accept valid ID alongside a discounted ticket.
Furthermore, the railcard cannot be used at peak times, and the budget announcement shows no sign of changing this. It’s all very well having the odd discount on a midday or weekend service, but travelling before 10am on a weekday will see you paying an adult fare (unless the discounted fare is over £12.) Not massively useful for 16-30 year olds looking for discounted travel to college or work.
One twitter user called James Paylor said, “Where is the help for those who have to commute to a different town for work? It would cost me more to use the railcard than it would be to buy a season pass, neither affordable, both crippling.”
Another worry is that the 16-30 railcard is just increasing the amount of people getting rail discounts, instead of addressing the actual issue that train fares for everyone are way too high. A working class 35 year old parent struggling to get by surely deserves a break on extortionate train tickets as much as a 19 year old undergraduate student.
“There'll basically be a railcard for almost everyone now,” twitter user Dominic Johnson tweeted today. “Doesn't that suggest something should be done to bring down prices in general, rather than just sell discount cards based on random criteria?”
A tweet from the Conservatives says, “A new railcard for 26-30 year olds, helping young people to keep more of their hard earned cash and keeping the cost of living down for around 4.5 million more people”. Whilst the railcard may be a beneficial adjustment to an a deeply flawed privatised rail system, the claim that it will “keep the cost of living down” is patronising, and blindly ignores how rail prices continue to rise significantly higher than in line with inflation, and that this “hard earned cash” which the Conservatives say we are earning may be from exploitative zero-hours contracts, and can be as low as £5.60 an hour for a twenty year old.
The Conservative government needs to commit to a good deal more than savings on off-peak train tickets if it wants to address the genuine struggles which under 30s face when trying to make ends meet, right across the board from our mountains of university debt, rising interest rates and a housing market which is stacked against us.
One twitter user said; “You can't get a house, you can't get an education, you're not going to be able to retire, your future's been sold out by oligarchs who tired of regulation & your rights. But fuck it, you can go to Scunthorpe with a Millennial Railcard! It's like giving a Haribo to a burns victim”
The Conservatives’ claim that a £30 railcard which can’t be used on season tickets or commuting is an adequate effort in improving travel for young people is a joke - especially when other political parties such as the Green Party are promising full renationalisation of the rail-service, free bus-travel for under 18s in full time education, and safer, more frequent cycle routes so cycling can be a genuine option for shorter journeys. We need to stop treating train travel as a luxury which belongs in the hands of private business, and instead see it as a necessary aspect of living for people of all ages, which needs to be affordable, sustainable, and fit for a 21st century country.