Kezia Dugdale: Affordable rail travel has hit the buffers

The Christmas decorations are now down, the festive party season is over and the diets have begun. ­January is a long month and always feels colder and darker than December without the lights and decorations on display in the streets and our homes. The last payday ­already seems like a lifetime ago and from yesterday, even those with the most generous leave over Christmas and New Year, will have returned to work.

Tuesday, 8th January 2019, 10:09 am
Updated Tuesday, 8th January 2019, 10:12 am
Rail operators are coining it in while commuters are struggling with fare increases. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Those commuters who are boarding trains to get in and out of Edinburgh to their place of work have another worry to add to the January blues, a rip-off 3.2 per cent rail fare rise. Much higher than most pay rises.

Workers now have to pay even more for train services, which are too often delayed, cancelled or overcrowded. When they turn up, particularly those crossing the Forth, they’re often Baltic and drafty or the lights flicker like the opening minutes of a horror movie. With that in mind, few can stomach the crippling price rise with annual season tickets on some routes now costing well in excess of £4,000.

An Edinburgh to Glasgow season ticket now cost £4082.59 and a Lockerbie to Edinburgh season ticket rises to an eye watering £5250.81.

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These prices rises are scandalous and hit working people hardest who now have to pay excessive fares, which simply line the pockets of private companies. Yes, there has been some investment and improvement in services by Abellio, but speaking to commuters, change is slow, and as long as delays and cancellations are as frequent as they are, there is little sympathy from those spending their mornings and evenings crammed into carriages like sardines, despite the welcome extra compensation announced yesterday.

The SNP have tried to look both ways on rail services and the Transport Minister is first in front of the camera to take credit when things improve, or to allocate blame elsewhere when they get worse. Last year Labour forced a vote in the Scottish Parliament asking the government to scrap the ScotRail franchise at the next opportunity – but the SNP joined forces with the Tories to vote it down, delaying the chance of a not for profit operator taking over.

In addition to those on a daily commute, there are thousands of people who may now be priced out of travelling on Scotland’s railways alongside their children with the popular Kids Go Free scheme also now scrapped.

We need to make rail travel affordable and reliable, otherwise we will see people giving up on our railways and returning to their cars. Why wouldn’t you if it is cheaper and more convenient?

This is not a Scotland-only problem though, as rail fares across the UK as a whole drive people towards taking cars or planes rather than travelling by train. Often it will be cheaper to fly to London, pay for the transfers and get a hotel than it is to purchase a return train ticket alone. This is of course unless you have set up an online alert for cheaper advance fares before the tickets go on sale and you’re able to book your trip when these are released three months in advance, impractical and complicated compared to booking a cheap last minute flight.

This undoubtedly has a negative environmental impact as well when we should doing everything we can to stop climate change.

I’ve previously written about how Scotland and the UK’s rail service pales in comparison to that of many of our European counterparts and this is in part what is so frustrating about our own services, in that we now pay some of the highest fares in Europe.

It is finally time that passengers are put before profits and we nationalise the railways as well as reforming our transport networks to deliver better services and value for money.

I, Daniel Blake shows reality of wage gap

We are only eight days into 2019 – and by day four the average chief executive of a FTSE 100 firm had already been paid as much as the average worker earns over an entire 12 months.

A study published last week revealed that top chief executives working a 12-hour day only need to work for 29 hours in 2019 to earn the average worker’s annual salary, two hours fewer than last year.

These figures show the extent of the income gap that exists between the richest and the rest. Whilst many of those in work have to resort to using food banks as they do not earn enough, chief executives have already pocketed an average worker’s annual salary.

On Saturday night the BBC aired I, Daniel Blake for the first time on TV, a film that tells the story of a 59-year-old widowed carpenter who must rely on benefits after a heart attack leaves him unable to work. Despite his doctor’s diagnosis, he is denied benefits and told to return to his job.

This is the cruel and unfortunate reality for too many people who have been hit by benefit sanctions and suffered the failure of Universal Credit.

The grotesque inequalities within our society get worse year on year under the Tories and they continue to cut the welfare state back, bungling the rollout of Universal Credit and plunging thousands into poverty while promoting heartless policies like the rape clause for child benefit claimants.

We need to narrow the inequality that exists in our society and give working people a £10 per hour real living wage and transform our economy so it works form everyone, not just those at the very top.

All Scots should be intolerant of hatred and prejudice in the community

I was deeply saddened to read that Ephraim Borowski, the director of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, had said that Jews are ‘actively considering’ leaving Scotland over anti-semitism.

The EU Agency for Fundamental Rights found that almost 90 per cent of respondents across European countries believed instances of anti-semitism had increased over the past five years.

Let me be clear, anti-semitism has no place in our society, and it must be stamped out, wherever it arises.

Following this report, it was heartening to see the outpouring of responses from politicians from all sides to this news reaffirming the Jewish community’s right feel safe, secure and valued in Scotland.

Through my own discussions with faith leaders, community groups and interfaith organisations here in the capital, I know that many other religious minorities also share similar concerns at an increase in intolerance and racism.

Looking back at 2018, many people will view it largely as a year of rising division, hate and prejudice.

A New Year’s resolution for us all should be to commit to cementing Scotland’s reputation as a diverse and outward looking place that is welcoming for all Scots, no matter their background.

If any person or group does not feel welcome here, it should be a stark reminder that we need to continue fighting for and championing a more tolerant, open and equal society for all.

We must continue to break down barriers and condemn all forms of discrimination wherever we see it.