Thursday, 29 March 2012

Contrary To Popular Complaint

Londoners unanimously seem to complain about the underground and often not without good reason. Having been back in the North for some time now, London's pioneering labyrinth of tunnels is something I sorely miss.

Without a driving license, travelling around West Yorkshire is challenging at times. Recently going to York for the day, I was disgusted and perplexed by hiked-up ticket prices. A return ticket to Bradford at peak times costs a mere £4.30 for a twenty minute journey, while a similar length train ride to York sets you back £11.80. This disparity in pricing is all the more bizarre if compared to a peak hour round-trip to Sheffield at £12.60, considering the most direct train takes 40 minutes and the average round-all-the-houses train can take up to an hour and twenty minutes.

In the past, I've been equally frustrated by similarly illogical southern ticket pricing. An hour journey to Oxford can cost as little as £4 if booked in advance but a journey of equal length travelling the other side of London to Staplehurst in Kent is somewhat more wallet-damaging at £18.80 and reductions for pre-booking aren't available.

Although outraged by the price of the train to York, I handed over my hard-earned cash but couldn't resist questioning the ticket operator. He sympathetically recounted tales of regular commuters complaining and with glee told me about a letter one particularly disgusted commuter had sent to a York MP. It seems as the population is less dense in York, taxes are higher and directly correlate with painful train fares. But worse still, unlike West Yorkshire's Metro Card and London's Oysters, train and bus prices remain completely separate so it is not possible to buy discounted day, weekly, monthly or annual tickets that include both forms of transport.

To add salt to the wound, private travel operators in West Yorkshire do not offer combined “Day Riders”. I learned this frustrating lesson, having already purchased a day ticket, when a series of buses owned by another company pulled up and told me my ticket was invalid. Years ago, First Group took over Black Prince buses and it seemed like they had the monopoly but now companies like Transdev are cropping up.

The cost of transport in London is often criticised but it's not until you leave the capital, you realise travelling outside London is actually often more expensive. Especially if, like me, you are working by the day, never able to plan commutes in advance – without Metro Cards each segment of a journey requires a separate ticket, there are no Oyster style discounts and there's no underground connecting far-flung destinations. Londoners rightly moan about the stifling heat and crowds in the underground but rarely celebrate the convenience of avoiding rush hour traffic or the joys of price-slashing Oysters. While others despair about George Osborne's pasty tax, I eagerly anticipate the introduction of nation-wide Oyster cards and the day I can drive. Perhaps both distant dreams?

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