High UK train travel costs have long been a driver of inequality. The result is regional variations in access to work and educational opportunities. This challenge will reassert itself and stifle economic recovery as we progress toward life with the pandemic under control in the months ahead.
The pandemic has seen workers and students avoiding public transport and working from home. As they contemplate returning to offices and universities, the resumption of meeting high travel costs, for a significant proportion, makes pursuit of work and study unviable, resulting in deepening inequality.
Example: A specialist nurse living in Southampton, wishing to commute by train to a London hospital, would currently pay £6200/year for travel, approximately 20% of take-home pay. They are likely to decide that working where their skills are most needed, is not viable. The same nurse might contemplate moving to London but property prices in London are well over 200% higher than in Southampton. Again, they are likely to decide that living in London is not viable.
The same problem applies for most workers in the UK earning average salaries. It applies to those seeking education far from home who cannot afford to move but wish to access learning to improve prospects.
High travel costs within and between UK regions disincentive travel for work and study. The consequence is ever increasing property prices in city centres which exclude the lower paid. These centres of prosperity persistently diverge from regional locations where workers and students cannot access the work and study which would benefit themselves and the economy.
This challenge requires a nation-wide approach to eradicate endemic obstacles to travel, which inhibit innovation & growth, and currently mean that the government’s strategy of “levelling up” is destined to fail as the country works to recover from the effects of COVID-19.