The standard fare of £369.40 for the 377-mile round trip from Manchester to London and back seems ridiculous. At almost £1 per mile (and £1.50 per minute), it seems intended to discourage people from making the 126-minute rail journey on the West Coast of Avanti.

It definitely worked for me – what about you, I imagine? Who’s going to pay that price, with multiple remedies like committing to a specific train ride, going out of peak hours or on the slower services of North West London Railway, National Express or Megabus.

But the fare exists and some people will pay it. And that angered the mayor of Greater Manchester.

“In that one figure – £370 – the extraordinary madness of rail prices in this country was exposed,” Andy Burnham writes in Evening Standard.

The UK certainly has some of the highest rail fares in Europe. Mr Burnham lays out the policy he is pushing as a senior Labor politician: “We won’t get the rail lines we need until we get control back. control and massively reduce fares”.

One person who knows more about train fares than I do is Mark Smith: a former British Rail and Transport expert who runs the international rail website, seat61.com.

The long-term goal on routes like London-Manchester, he said, is to maximize revenue. That goal is best achieved through aggressive yield management that adjusts pricing to demand, providing very low lead-time fares and very high business fares.

“This is exactly how airlines price their services,” Mr. Smith said. “If you realize what the goal is and how intercity freight rates work, there should be no ‘shock’ but ‘expectation’.

“Cheap Advance fares appear to need to be highlighted as much as corporate fares at the other end of the scale, but of course never are.”

At the heart of the controversy: what is the goal for the railway?

Mark Smith says it makes perfect sense to argue that finding ways to maximize revenue doesn’t take environmental factors into account. If that is the goal, it makes sense to “buy” rail passengers by paying to reduce fares. But you must clarify this policy and evaluate the actual costs against the actual benefits.

“Reducing the £369 business class fare down to, say, £269, would cost £100 per passenger, but wouldn’t capture many passengers. I wouldn’t buy it at both prices. You get more passengers by issuing extra £15, £25 and £35 tickets.”

“It is also perfectly reasonable to argue that we would all be happier, more accomplished individuals if we had access to low-cost transport that was not limited to the length and breadth of England. whenever we want – that railroads should be a social service.

“That’s not currently the target set for railroads – or airlines, or National Express.”

The Man in Seat 61 says that outcome is workable if taxpayers get the additional subsidy needed to make up for the loss of revenue compared to what would be achieved by maximizing zero revenue. controlled.

“You can’t do that by decree, or by claiming to be shocked at the fringe effects of productivity management.”

Meanwhile, a Department for Transport spokesman said: “Depending on when passengers book their tickets, the UK has some of the cheapest tickets on offer in Europe.”

A final word to Mr. Burnham – who, interestingly the mayor of a north-west English suburb, wrote for a London newspaper rather than Manchester Evening News. He says that there is only one destination for railways: “Complete re-nationalization”.

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