Wednesday, October 26, 2011

HSR as a vehicle for "class warfare" and "government income redistribution"

Two articles from The Telegraph, an online newspaper version from the UK. One article is from today, the other from last month but highly relevant to our ongoing argument.

Today's article refers to a recent report from the UK Adam Smith Institute, a leading conservative think tank. The Adam Smith Institute is based on free market and conservative ideology.  <>

I don't have to repeat what the article says, but do want to mention that traditional Republicans in the US were once true Conservatives in the sense that they wished to conserve our resources; that is, behave in a frugal manner as fiscal conservatives.  That's no longer the case.  

The other article is from the same author, but written a month ago.  It's an acknowledgement that HSR is for rich people.

And I have to ask why my Democratic Party supports the construction of transit which is exclusively for rich people, but paid for with the taxes of the middle class.  Isn't that "class warfare?" Isn't that "government income redistribution?"  Only, in this case, it's upward, not downward. 

Road and rail transport
Plans to build a high speed rail network are “fundamentally flawed”, a free market think tank argues in a report published today.
According to the Government, the first stage of the line will cost around £17 million 
By David Millward, Transport Editor
7:00AM BST 26 Oct 2011

The Adam Smith Institute became the latest right wing body to come out against plans for the 250mph line, which has the support of all three major parties at Westminster.

It argues that the line, which is opposed by a number of Tory MPs whose constituencies lie on the route, will never make enough money to cover the cost of building it.

According to the Government, the first stage of the line which would run as far as Birmingham, will cost around £17 billion. It is anticipated the first trains will run in the middle of the next the next decade.

“The case for High Speed 2 is based on wildly unrealistic projections. It will probably end up making a loss, and will mean a lot more borrowing for the government in the mean time,” said Sam Bowman, the Institute’s head of research.

“There are no significant benefits to HS2: it will cost a lot of money and achieve virtually nothing.

“Governments are spectacularly bad at predicting the future – taxpayers should not be forced to pay for a project with no significant benefits.

To spend at least £17 billion and up to £50 billion on a train network for which there is no demand is wasteful enough; to do so at a time of austerity is obscene.

“The HS2 project has itself become a runaway freight train. If the government is serious about getting tough on wasteful spending, it will hit the brakes on HS2.”

However the report was dismissed by David Begg, the director of the Campaign for High Speed rail.

“The Adam Smith Institute is a free market extremist group with a penchant for the privatisation of everything and anything.

“Their opposition to HS2 is purely ideological as they are fundamentally opposed to large-scale infrastructure investment.

"The Institute’s "analysis" is just the latest in a line of reports that tries to disguise its ideological opposition to HS2 behind thinly veiled attacks on the project's economic case.”

Road and rail transport
Trains 'rich man's toy' admits Transport Secretary
Trains are becoming a rich man’s toy, Philip Hammond, the Transport Secretary has admitted.
Some rail fares "eye wateringly expensive" admits Phlip Hammond 
By David Millward, Transport Editor
6:57PM BST 
13 Sep 2011
Appearing before the Transport Select Committee he said some tickets were “eye wateringly” expensive.

Mr Hammond’s admission came as he appeared before the Committee at the end of its hearings into the Government’s plans for a high speed rail network from London to Birmingham and beyond.

Earlier this month commuters were told they face rises of up to 13 per cent in January as a result of the Coalition’s decision to allow cares to increase by three per cent above inflation.

This formula will remain in place for the next three years as part of the Government’s strategy to push fares up rather than cut a raft of schemes to ease overcrowding.

However the strategy was challenged by a Labour member of the committee, Julie Hilling, MP for Bolton West.

She asked Mr Hammond whether this meant that trains would become unavailable to people of low or moderate means.

"Uncomfortable fact number one is that the railway is already relatively a rich man's toy – the whole railway,” he replied.

"People who use the railway on average have significantly higher incomes than the population as a whole – simple fact."

Last night Mr Hammond's officials denied that he was saying that that trains were becoming a preserve for the rich as a result of the Government's fares policy.

Critics of the high speed rail project, known as HS2, have argued that the 250 mph trains will be unaffordable for many people.

Mr Hammond appeared to concede the point in his evidence.

“The assumptions underlying the patterns of use of HS2 assume similar pricing to the West Coast Mainline, which I have said before ranges from eye-wateringly expensive to really quite reasonable.

“If you dig around and use the advance purchase ticket options that are available.

"And therefore the assumption is that the socio-economic mix of passengers will be broadly similar to those using the West Coast Mainline."

But even those who could not afford to use the service could benefit, Mr Hammond added.

"If you are a factory worker from Manchester you might never get on HS2 but you will certainly be benefiting from it, if the sales director of your company is routinely hopping on it to meet customers, to jet round the world from Heathrow in a way that brings in orders to keep you employed."

His remarks were seized upon by Maria Eagle, his Labour shadow.

“The real reason that our railway is becoming a rich man’s toy is Philip Hammond’s decision to allow rail fares to rocket by an average of 8% every year,” she said.

“This increasingly out of touch government has no idea of the cost of living crisis facing families up and down the country and the impact these rises are having on household budgets.

Stephen Joseph, chief executive of the environmental lobby group, the Campaign for Better Transport, urged Mr Hammond to rethink the Government’s fares strategy.

“Philip Hammond’s description of rail fares as ‘eye-watering’ must lead the minister to reconsider the steep fare rises currently planned by Government.

“Far from being simply ‘a rich man’s toy’, trains are also vital for many of those on more moderate incomes who need to get to work.

“The Government will price many off the railways if it carries on with its plan to increases rail fares at three per cent above inflation over the next few years.

“Instead, the Transport Secretary’s promised fare review must deliver simpler, fairer and affordable rail fares.

“Rail delivers big benefits for communities, the economy and the environment. It makes no sense to be penalise passengers for taking the greener choice."


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