BBC host tries to stitch up Andy McDonald over Labour’s lower rail fare plan. It goes badly wrong.

Andy McDonald
Tracy Keeling

Labour has announced a significant reduction in the cost of train fares, starting in January, should it win the general election. The party has pledged to reduce season ticket and regulated fares by a third, ensure part-time users don’t pay more daily than season ticket holders, and give free rail travel to under 16s.

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald appeared on BBC Radio 5 Live Breakfast to discuss the plans. At the start of the interview, host Rachel Burden tried to blindside McDonald with a gotcha question. As a political correspondent for the Guardian noted, however, all Burden achieved was helping McDonald show that “one of the big two parties has finally reached the 21st century” when it comes to transport.

Robbing Peter to pay Paul?

Train fares are a hot topic in Britain. That’s because rail users face another steep rise in fares – around 2.7% – in January 2020. According to research by Labour, passengers have seen an average total increase in season ticket prices of 40% since 2010. Meanwhile, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) says fares have risen by 46% overall since 2009.

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Burden didn’t, however, begin the interview with McDonald by acknowledging the relief his party’s pledge will give to train travellers. Instead, she said:

More free stuff. More cheaper stuff… how are you going to pay for it?

The shadow transport secretary explained that the cost of the changes – which the party puts at £1.5bn – will come from vehicle excise duty (VED). Labour plans to use VED revenues to create a sustainable transport fund. Under current plans, the government will use VED revenues for road building and maintenance from 2020.

In her next gotcha question, Burden said:

So which road projects are you going to mothball in order to pay for this?

Essentially, the BBC host framed Labour’s “unfair” plan as one that would take money from road users to pay for stuff for train users.

A transport policy for our times

McDonald though responded:

Well, there’s an awful lot of money available for roads. There’s £30bn ascribed to it by the Conservatives, and there’s a whole host of other funds – the housing infrastructure fund, the national productivity investment fund. There are growth funds and local authority block grants.

There’s plenty of money around for roads, but I’ll be straightforward with you. You cannot road build your way out of a climate crisis.

McDonald also said that Labour would make sure “people have access to decent public integrated transport”, such as extending the bus system so it that caters to rural areas. He said:

We’re making sure that our full range of transport offers impact upon all areas of the country to people’s benefit, not to their detriment.

But the shadow transport secretary made it clear that the climate crisis would be integral to any decisions Labour makes:

It’s all connected

As the Guardian‘s Peter Walker suggested, this is the sort of joined-up thinking Britain needs in the 21st century. Transport is the biggest culprit for carbon emissions in the UK and those emissions are rising. If we are to have any chance to tackle the climate crisis, parties have to put consideration of the planet at the heart of any transport plans. And that’s exactly what McDonald just pledged to do.

Featured image via YouTube – BBC Newsnight

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  • Show Comments
    1. If Labour were saying “we’re going to take £X away from roads and put it into railways” that would be fair enough.

      But that’s not what they’re saying. They’re saying “we’re going to take £X away from roads and give it to individual rail passengers”

      And of course some of those individual rail passengers will be the depised “fat cats” and bankers who commute into the City of London!

    2. My understanding is that rail transport will be taken into public ownership. That should lead to more rational capital investment in the rail network and joined-up management of operations. ‘Profit maximisation’, the current mantra in business schools, will give way to ‘sensible stewardship’ of available resources. Whether the rail network will be obliged to break-even depends upon how the Labour government perceives rail transport fitting into the totality of social infrastructure; it’s likely some currently not profitable services, either already abandoned or cut back, will be reinstated; thus ‘social accounting’ in context of broad societal aims will displace the rigours of profit/loss accounting incumbent upon private enterprise.

      It is reported that 21st century technology will be deployed to unify the booking system and cut through the bewildering plethora of fares, offers, and discounts.

      I take proposed shift of some resource currently allocated to road transport into rail as an interim measure whilst railway provision is overhauled and transport is treated in holistic manner. It makes sense for individual passengers to benefit because they have been hard pressed and because a positive attitude toward rail/buses as preferred transport option may be engendered. Indeed, ‘fat cats’ will benefit but two points bear consideration; first, tubby felines are a tiny proportion of the population; second, there are direct ways by which their corpulence may be reduced.

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