During my daily commute I congratulate myself on transferring away from London to the local branch of my company and replacing an expensive, overcrowded, uncomfortable and unreliable train journey with a 5-minute walk, and even more so on strike days. Mind you, I hear that even non-strike days are now pretty dreadful and for the last few years have been a lot worse than whe I used the service regularly and complain about it all the time.
So it is not my problem any more, but I do have two potential solutions to the ongoing mess.Option one is obviously to take the franchise away from the current operators and let National Rail or TfL run it. In other words bring it back into public ownership. I think that is the preferred option for lots of people. Even die-hard Thatcherites who have to use the service every day must be tempted by the idea of renationalisation.
If that is not ideologically acceptable then how about privatising it properly? We were told that privatising things was all about introducing competition which would drive down prices and drive up service. I don’t think we really believed that, butin any case introducing lots of different monopolies does not really count as competition does it?
But what if each route had two operators running alternate services? Tickets would be valid on both, with the revenue divided between them according to reliability and number of services run.
If a train is cancelled then that means a smaller slice of that day’s revenue.
If one company’s drivers strike then commuters still have a service, albeit reduced, but the company will really suffer from losing all their revenue so they have an incentive to avoid strikes.
A service could be defined as 8 carriages so that short services would only count as half a service and 12-car trains would count as 1.5 services. With revenues based on capacity there is an incentive to provide more capacity.
If one company treated its drivers significantly worse than the other then there would be a brain drain as drivers tried to move to the competition – which they could do without having to move house or learn new routes. If one company was significantly better then the other as an employer it would even save money because it could keep recruiting trained drivers from the competition and so spend less on training.
But what about the stations? A a different company to run them? And wouldn’t a strike by station staff mean there was still a potential single point of failure? All good questions, but I’ve already solved the train problem (you’re welcome) I have to leave something for the highly-paid transport ministers to do.
Besides, putting everything into public ownership in the first place is still a far better idea.