Wednesday, 13 January 2010

The Hidden Cost of Rail Travel

I don't go into London much these days - I used to do so far more regularly. We expect the annual rise in train tickets - it seems a given that prices go up yet on each route there is no competition so it is actually a licence to print money.

But we do have a friend for train tickets - Office of Rail Regulation whose job it is to ensure that there is (farcically) some competition and that price rises are not just in the realms of fantasy. However, what is not really governed at all is the cost of parking at stations.

In an ideal world, it would be great to cycle to and from our local stations. Kings Langley is nearest but this has only slow trains going through it and twice our car has been broken into in the car parks. So we tend to use St Albans or Watford Junction as they have more regular fast trains, with St Albans being very handy for my wife as the trains stop at Farringdon which is great for her office in Spitalfields. But it is a long cycle indeed to St Albans and there is no bus link from near us to go there either. So car is the best way.

I tend to use Watford as I am not fussy about where I alight in London as I go to several places for business. I was struck by this year's increase in the ticket prices - in a couple of years the prices have ratcheted up significantly and there is no doubt that salaries are not keeping up with ticket price rises. But the real hit was the price of parking my car. It is now £8 per day - just a couple of years ago it was less than £6.

In that time, the car park has automated so the human labour force to patrol the entry is no longer required and finally it takes credit cards. On a piece of cheap, ex-railway land, there is space for 270 cars which is probably on average two thirds full on each day of the year. The price rises for parking are not regulated by the rail regulator and so they have risen at above 10% per annum each year for some time despite lower running costs. I was truly astounded that this is allowed and not monitored by the regulator.

There is one thing in business that I have noticed, you rarely ever see firms who run carparks go out of business, and few go public as the requirement for capital is minimal in such a regular, cash business. In 1998, the owners of NCP, sold their business for £555m. Just imagine what that business would be worth today if only for its property value.

Commuters in this country get an awful deal and we only really ever hear part of it. The cost of parking is a racket in its own right.

1 comment: said...

One should always take the time to read small print. Travel by train is great fun and good for the enviroment, and one can usually fine fantastic deals to just about anywhere in Europe. Take the time to look around and remeber to read all the T&C's before buying.