Public ownership of the railways and lower fares on trains and buses: they’re popular and right

Public ownership of the railways was the second most popular policy among those presented to voters.

Public ownership of the railways was the second most popular policy among those presented to voters

This morning it was pretty chilly at King’s Cross train station. Understandably, most commuters had their hands in their pockets and when approached by a leafletter were inclined to leave them there.

What was cheering, however, was how many, when they caught the words “railways back into public hands” or saw the banners, smiled and took a leaflet. It warmed the hearts (if not the feet) of the campaigners from the Green Party, the RMT, Campaign Against Climate Change and other groups (sorry I didn’t get a chance to talk to everybody!).

That reaction confirms the view of surveys that show strong public support (even majority support among Tory voters!) for bringing the railways back into public hands, running them for the benefit of passengers, not shareholders.

It was confirmed by a YouGov survey just this morning which saw public ownership of the railways as the second most popular policy among those presented to voters. The option presented there – bringing the services back into public hands as operating company licences expire – is exactly that contained in Green MP Caroline Lucas’s Railways Bill, which will be presented to MPs next week.

It was a good day for the protest, with many workers returning today after the seasonal holiday to an all-too-familiar pain: the damage done to household budgets in our low-wage economy by the latest jump in rail fares that are already the most expensive in Europe. Regulated fares have risen by more than 20 per cent since 2010, vastly outstripping wages.

So I was delighted this afternoon to announce that included in the Green Party’s 2015 general election manifesto will be funding to allow a 10 per cent cut in the cost of train and bus fares.

It is an annual investment of £1.8bn and would offer an enormous help to Britons to as they travel between communities, to work, to meet up with friends and relatives, and would help us relieve the national reliance on carbon-intensive forms of transport.

We’re taking the funding (£9 billion over the term of the next parliament) from the government’s proposed £15 billion new road-building programme – their revival of a policy established as having failed in the last century.

We need to acknowledge that public transport is an essential service that needs to be supported and made affordable. Britain needs a public transport network to be proud of – one that offers a quality service to those that use it and can help to keep our air clean by reducing travellers need to rely on other, more carbon-intensive forms of transport.

Sadly, the coalition doesn’t seem to agree that this should be a priority: the new road-building policy they have announced would force us down a cul-de-sac, prioritising tarmacking over our land and communities, rather than investing in a national public transport network run for the public’s benefit.

As well as abandoning this fixation with roads, we also need to put a stop to HS2 –  a rich-man’s vanity project – and abandon all thoughts of building extra airport runway capacity in the South East.

Instead, we should be looking to focus our energies on making walking and cycling more attractive (with added considerable health benefits), on supporting local buses routes and on reconnecting communities that have been left abandoned by decades of underinvestment in our public transport network.

These are the steps we need to take if we are to build a quality, integrated and affordable public transport network in Britain.

Natalie Bennett is the leader of the Green Party. Follow her on Twitter

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