First class distraction from fares rises

The Daily Mail, the Tory house paper, splashes on plans by ministers to transform first class coaches into standard ones in order to accommodate more passengers. This is a very clever bit of PR as it enables the government to go on the attack on a day which normally would be focussed on the annual fares rises.

First class is seen as a privilege for the rich and therefore suggesting that the government wants to do away with it is good politics. The rich are under attack because of the behaviour of bankers and a growing awareness among the electorate that any benefits from the economic recovery are being creamed off by the lucky few at the top and not ordinary people. Moreover, this covers up the bad news today of rail fares rising by the rate of inflation, a real increase for most people whose wages are not keeping up with inflation. The attempt to portray the rise as a freeze clearly did not work.

So this move, clearly cooked up by No 10 spin doctors, fills all the right boxes. There is, as so often with such announcements, scant few  details and that is hardly surprising. First, if the move were to be any use in accommodating more passengers, the coach layouts would have to be changed, which will be time consuming and expensive. Who, indeed, will pay? Then, of course, there are the contracts with the train operating companies. The TOCs will argue that they will lose money from the change, and therefore, again, who will pay? Indeed, the government cannot actually force the TOCs to change, as it is a commercial matter.

While broadly I am sympathetic to the idea of reducing first class accommodation, there are a myriad of obstacles to any such change happening in the near future. My bet is that nothing will come of this announcement, just as with many other such seemingly off the cuff announcements. You cannot blame the government for trying to cover up bad news, but let’s hope that the rest of the media do not swallow this without a proper appraisal.

  • ricp

    This is the Virgin Pongolino debacle, which had 4 first class coaches, but only 5 coaches for the rest of us on a 9 coach train. OK the 11 coach trains have a better balance of 4 and 7 coaches, but there is still lots of Alistair Darlings favourite user, fresh air, with a hint of loo fragrances in many trains, whizzing around in first class.
    Compare with one-class Chiltern, where there are bottoms on most seats. So are we to assume this will be part of a new franchise package that one full coach, or half of one to increase Std class seats by x number, or it could be a 3rd class standee coach to increase social divisions. Who knows!?

  • Chris

    The Chiltern that introduced a premium-fare ‘Business’ class a few years back? First class continues to exist because, outside of inner-suburban traffic, it is cost effective – some services may not have an optimum balance between first and standard and this should be addressed, but removing simply isn’t going to happen.

  • ricp

    Chris, there is basically one standard class on Chiltern, but there are a few business trains where this business class is offerered but it is still in the same Clubman class seting in 168s. A 168 departing from marylebone at 2100 hrs does not have the Clubman Business class. Also the seatsare filled. What many object to is several coaches of empty first class coaches whizzing around with no passengers.

  • Greg Tingey

    For utter tosh on this subject, including the captions & picture, you’d be hard put to beat THIS:


  • Dan

    I tend to find Advance Ticket booking a nuisance, but the one time I use it a lot is to book better value 1st class fares off peak – it’s the one area where yield management can work well. I guess VT never have bothered to develop the use properly to fill the over supply of 1st class seats Branson insisted the trains had when ordered. Barry Doe, has I think made this point.

    The sad thing for me is the extent to which 1st class has been degraded on some outer London commuter TOCs – not proper separate compartment area (you have to walk through it to get to other parts of the train), same seating as in std, but fares 50% higher than std as they always have been – so you pay more for a lot less.

    If you abolished 1st class on a Southern Electrostar you would not generate much crowd busting capacity!

  • Dangerman

    This may be fine for London, but up North, we do not have first class on our trains except for East Coast and Cross Country, so this measure is not going to help us in the North with our crowded trains, what we require is more trains or more carriages on existing trains. We have some of worst overcrowding outside of the South East, all we seem to get are London’s outcasts, it is time Londoners travelled on some of the Pacer units.