Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Non est mea culpa

It is increasingly commonplace for First Great Western to be blamed for all manner of ills which are completely outside of their control – but blaming the company for overcrowding on another operator’s service is simply nonsensical. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what Councillor David Unwin of Bridgend Council has done in a letter to Alison Forster.

Mr Unwin complains that the removal of a First Great Western train has created severe pressure on at least one of Arriva Trains Wales’ services. While there may well be some truth in the statement, Mr Unwin fails to see the matter in context and his analysis of the situation is intellectually pitiful.

First of all, FGW does not have complete control over its timetable and any cuts to services will have been mandated, or at least rubber stamped, by the Department for Transport. But that’s not the real issue here: the real issue is the unequal relationship between Arriva Trains Wales and First Great Western.

Compare the two.

Arriva is subsidised by the Welsh Assembly Government; it is able to run unprofitable services without concern for its overall financial stability. First Great Western is a commercial entity that receives no subsidy from the Assembly or, over the course of the franchise, from the UK government – indeed, it has to pay back over £1bn in premium payments.

Arriva is paid by the Welsh government to run a service for Welsh passengers: this duty of service, regardless of commerciality, is a condition of it accepting subsidy. First Great Western, while it wants to provide a good service, has no such duty: it cannot be expected to run unprofitable services just because councillors – or Arriva – want them to.

Arriva, by receiving subsidy, is able to distort the market. It takes a share of passenger income from the Welsh Market which, under normal commercial conditions, it would not be able to profitably service. First Great Western is deprived of at least some of this income and this, in turn, makes it less attractive for them to add services or capacity.

Yet, despite all of these considerations, when it comes to the issue of overcrowding on Arriva’s trains it is First Great Western – the private company running without government assistance – that is blamed. A double standard is clearly in operation.

Why do Councillor Unwin and his friends expect First Great Western, at their own expense, to provide services without regard to their commercial feasibility when they do not expect the same thing of Arriva? Why do Councillor Unwin and his friends not direct criticism at Arriva which is, after all, paid by the state to provide a good service to passengers? Why do Councillor Unwin and his friends not look to the Welsh Assembly government to sort out the anomalies in subsidy payments given to train services in Wales?

The answer is simple: for intellectually lazy politicians, it is easier to grab a headline by blaming First Great Western than it is to properly analyse the situation and report the truth.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

having travelled on both first great western and arriva, first is a much better service -amazing that arriva receive a subsidy to provide such a rubbish service!