Through the fug of the New Year hangover, it was a lovely surprise to see Andrew Gilligan launch an ad hominem attack on me from his bully pulpit on greenwich.co.uk. It was an even lovelier surprise just now, while researching the bus fare post below, that he’d given me another kicking on his Telegraph blog.
I’m delighted for Andrew, because I write this blog for no money at all, yet he’s been paid twice for having a pop at me. I might send him an invoice. The funny thing is, I actually agree with him on the main thrust of his Telegraph piece, published while I was writing the piece below:
There’s actually an excellent, and true, case to be made against today’s fare changes. With their single fare rising by 20 per cent, there’s no question that bus travellers are being hammered, even though they are the group least able to pay. Bus passengers tend to be poorer, more inner-city and more Labour-voting while more prosperous, more suburban, more Tory-voting rail users are protected.
The cynicism of this behaviour, rather at odds with Boris’s cuddly image, is the attack Ken and co should have made. If, as I believe, public transport fares must rise to fund the grotesque waste of the past and the new projects of the future, the pain should at least be fairly shared. And “fairness” is a really salient political issue.
I shan’t be joining him in throwing the toys around the nursery, and it’s a bit pompous to demand a right-of-reply. And it’d be a bit absurd because I also do a few things for greenwich.co.uk. But while I’m delighted Andrew Gilligan’s favourite train journey is falling in price as part of today’s fare changes, it’s worth pointing out that Greenwich area rail fares were hiked up in 2007 as part of the process which has enabled today’s launch of Oyster on the trains.
Indeed, a fearless journalist has, in the past, criticised those who raise fares and then cut them again…
But remind me again: who was it who only in January jacked up the single Oyster bus fare by 25 per cent – from 80p to £1, an increase almost 10 times inflation? All that this autumn’s “cut” and 2008’s “freeze” mean is that the overall fare rise has come down from monstrous to merely extortionate.
Gilligan’s free to concentrate on what for him and many others will be positive aspects of the new Oyster system, just as I and others are free to point out holes in the system. There’s nothing “misleading” about pointing out that there are big flaws in the Oyster PAYG system on National Rail. I suspect the evening peak fare is here to stay, but there’s no reasons why the other problems – like the child fares anomaly between north/west London and south London, Gold Card discounts and Oyster Extension Permits – can’t be ironed out with a bit of political will.
Incidentally, Boriswatch has found other issues, from a doubling of the price of child travelcards to the clumsy rules for under-11s’ fares on those lines which are charging them. And even watchdog body London Travelwatch is urging people to do their sums before they decide to switch to Oyster PAYG.
Yes, it’s great that we can finally use Oyster south of the river, and it’s great that me, Andrew Gilligan and you can get a cheap train ticket (so long as we don’t come home between 4-7pm on a weekday). But that’s no excuse for him to start lobbing personal attacks on those who are prodding a bit deeper into the issue. Sadly, though, it’s his stock in trade. Shame, because it’d be nice to be able to have a civil discussion with someone whose work clearly has an impact on London life. But it’s not to be. Hey-ho.