Friday, January 02, 2015
Who wants to run the railways as though they were airlines?
Patrick McLoughlin was struggling on the Today programme this morning. He was asked why the train operating companies are allowed to get away with operating ticket machines that do not offer customers the cheapest fare for their journey.
For some odd reason - he is a politician in election year, after all - he was unwilling to offer any sort of populist attack on these companies and just floundered.
Then he thought of a clinching argument and you could hear the confidence return to his voice. You can't just turn up at an airport and buy a ticket on the day of travel, so why should you be able to do so on the railways?
If anyone had put forward this argument when the railways were being privatised in the last years of John Major's premiership they would have been laughed at.
Why should we run the railway industry like the airline industry? It certainly would not have encouraged anyone to support privatisation.
That this argument is now taken so seriously, and is even regarded by some as conclusive, is further evidence for George Ritzer's 'McDonaldization' theory, which I have blogged about before.
This holds that, far from increasing human freedom, the rise of corporate power requires us to behave in ever more circumscribed ways.
So, while it suits the train operating companies to run the railways as though they are airlines, it is not in the interests of their customers.
I will admit that some railway services have improved greatly since privatisation, but then so the public subsidy given to the railways has greatly increased over the same period.
Those two facts must, at least to some extent, be connected.