My evangelism for long-distance commuting took a bit of a dent this week when Virgin Trains suddenly withdrew the ticket option I had been buying, effectively putting the price up by £10 a day. This is because of the increasing popularity of many of the peak-time services.
Now, I will admit I was getting quite a good deal, paying just over £20 return most days to get to London and back. This is undoubtedly good value for the distance, as is £31 for a day-trip. It's a great service and very reliable. But for the commuter option, I had budgeted this year to pay around $4000, while the season ticket or daily return option is about £7000. My sense of what is reasonable to pay in travel or living has gradually been adjusting from my student days, when I spent about £5000 in rent with an income of £4,500, plus what I could get out of overdrafts, credit cards or temping in the summer. When I moved to Stoke from London, mortgage for a plus train travel was an equitable swap for renting a one bedroom flat with a nice dock.
So my perspectives on money are a bit different from people who spend their money on such things as clothes and CDs, though i have been gradually moving towards a position I would call a bit more normal. I spend about a third of my income now (after tax) on travel. On this basis, a season ticket will only become viable one I hit the over-£30,000 bracket, which isn't a sum quickly attained in my sectors. I'll remind you, in case you were just tempted to say 'move back to London' that the current average house price there is £270,000.
I gather fares to Birmingham and Manchester are subsidised to make it a shopping destination. The fact is, Stoke-on-Trent has next to no jobs in the professional sector as yet. Manchester and Birmingham have more, but for anything in journalism or NGOs, London is still the place to be. If Stoke is ever going to be viable as a place for professionals to move to - as is apparently the aim of the large sexy new developments - it needs to capitalise on its position as *the* place to easily escape from. A far nicer commute than Croyden, with house prices that are actually within reach of anybody under 35.
Stoke has a great quality of life: value for money, beautiful countryside and atmospheric heritage, good pubs, restaurants and theatres. It ain't a work destination yet. So my point, shot out to cyberspace where it can be ignored all the more publicly, is: lower the season ticket prices - £4000 is enough for a train company to make in a year, is it not?