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Movers and Shakers

20/06/2012

How we get about is as important as where we go

If May’s hot weather boosted British business following the wettest April in 100 years, then this was certainly true in Brighton. Brighton Beach experienced its busiest weekend of the year so far, and sea-front bars, cafes and ice-cream stands were doing brisk business. The hot weather brought day trippers, tourists and locals down to the sea front in droves. ‘Visit Britain’, the UK’s national tourism agency, estimate that over 15million tourists travelling by rail a year, so how people travel is as important as where they are going.

Visit Britain’ is responsible for marketing the UK as a destination and has been focusing much attention on the domestic market this year. Indeed, 2012 is set to be a big year for the UK tourist industry with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and Olympic Games later in the summer expecting to draw large crowds. However, the growing trend for ‘stay-cations’ and the drop in UK foreign travel since 2005, could spell big problems for transport networks, and for tourists looking to get away this summer in the British isles.

In 2011 the consumer watchdog, ‘Which?’, reported that Rail Tickets were now so complex that consumers rarely understood what they were buying, and with these complexities more people are facing steep fines for travelling with invalid tickets. Coupled with this, the rocketing price of train fares led the conservative transport minister in 2011, Philip Hammond, to admit that the railway had become ‘a rich man’s toy’. These factors are likely to put off potential rail users.

The Department for Transport are undergoing a formal consultation to evaluate the issues of fare rises and ticketing complexity that is set to be completed in June of this year, but other than this, the government has done little to help.

Lack of investment and indecision could cause long term problems for the British economy if the government does not act to improve transport in the UK. Three major transport areas need to be addressed properly. The substantial pressure against the HC1 high-speed rail expansion leaves a question-mark over the future of the project. The complete indecision by government on the future of Heathrow’s 3rd runway or construction of the Thames Estuary Airport is causing uncertainty, and the ability of Cameron’s proposed privatised road network to deliver a better service is questionable.

The government needs to take a clear line on all these issues and push for their resolution even if current austerity plans cannot allow them to make the large investments in infrastructure that are needed.

Although costly, the HC1 extension ought to go ahead, but relying on a rail network first designed over 100 years ago is worryingly laissez-faire. Without government incentives, Network Rail will not undertake improvement on this scale. However the question of who pays is a complex one, and passing the majority of the cost on to rail users will lead to big increases in fair prices that might well undermine the expansion. However this leaves the question of whether taxpayers, as a whole, should fit the bill?

Clearly something should be done to prevent the UK economy stagnating. What lies ahead is not an unassailable challenge but an opportunity for MP’s to boost UK tourism revenue with some well placed legislation, support and some funding.

Tourism alone contributed £732 million for the economy of Brighton in 2010, building a better rail network, that people can afford, could increase that figure. In these dark economic times, boosting that figure will likely make a big difference to consumers and may pay dividends come the next general election.

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