Skip to main content

I love trains

Sundays are the day for checking that everything is in place for the week ahead. The meetings in the calendar include discussion of our environment. When I was appointed Climate Change Minister in 2007, it moved that topic up my personal interests list. And it has remained there. Yes, COVID-19 is our immediate and very pressing problem. Yes, by reducing our travel it has checked our greenhouse footprint. But we lose that if we up our car mileage post-pandemic.

With Scotrail back to near normal tomorrow, we now, after a considerable period of actively encouraging the opposite, must get us back onto public transport.

All its previous advantages, lower cost, lower stress, lower environmental footprint are still there. Lower cost you say, Stewart? Yes, I do! Let's nail it now.

When I travel by car on Parliamentary business, I am reimbursed at the rate of 45 pence per mile. And the taxman does not charge me for the sums I receive. Because simply getting back what it cost me to travel, and not a penny more than that, is not a taxable benefit.

There is, therefore, a broad agreement that it costs, on average, 45 pence to turn the wheels on my car for each mile I travel. So if I take my car from home to Parliament, I am paid £153.90 for the 342 miles I drive.

If I catch the train, I still have either 30 or 58 miles for the return drive between home and one of the stations I use. Fifty-eight miles at 45p per mile is £26.10. The train south has a maximum standard class fare of £78.50. So that's a total of £104.60. The saving is, therefore, £49.30, almost a third.

For my usual thirty-six round trips each year that's a saving of £1,774.80.

It actually gets better than that. Some weeks I can travel offpeak and get the fare down to £54.20, a saving of £24.30. As I am over sixty years old, buying a Senior Railcard at £30 per annum gets a third off. The peak fare drops to £51.80, a drop of £26.30. I buy my own Railcard for personal use and make more than the cost in savings.

I can hear some of you champing at the bit to say that you don't spend 45 pence when you travel in your car. The fuel to take my car a mile is currently about 10 pence. That's at about 50 miles per gallon and a gallon costing about £5.

My insurance is about £600 per annum. Car tax £100. Servicing £300. Tyres last about 25,000 miles and cost about £400 for a new set so for 8,300 miles a year that's another £135 per annum.

So for one year when I drive 8,300 miles I spend:
  • £830 for fuel
  • £600 for insurance
  • £100 for road tax
  • £300 for servicing
  • £135 for tyres
That comes to £1,965 in total. But that's only 23.67 pence per mile I hear you say.

I run a second-hand Honda Civic. Even the best of cars need replacing. If the value of my car dropped by £1,770 in a year that means my total annual costs are £3,735. Divide that by my mileage, and you get 45 pence per miles. Except that actually, the value of my car will fall by more like £2,500 each year.

I, therefore, am making a loss at 45 pence per mile.

So on economic grounds, it's the train whenever possible.

More to the point is safety and stress. When I use the car, I lose seven hours of my life each week. That's an entire working day if you have a 35 hour week; mine's more like fifty-five or more.

Remember that travelling by train means I can work. On the computer, reading paperwork, writing. Or just relaxing at least some of the time.

Let's beat the drum for the train. Cheaper, environmentally less damaging, less stressful, safer. And did I say cheaper? Yes; definitely cheaper.

I am not trying to do down the bus. They get places the train can't reach and will never get to. And for an over-sixty like me, it is cost-free. Unless I splurge on the booking fee for some long distance coaches. Last time I looked that's mostly around a £1.

The bus is a bit less of an option for me as I find I can't read or write on board. But I have one older staff member who uses the bus to travel to Edinburgh when I need him down there. Nearly a zero claim from him. Excellent.

I have always looked at value for money in my travelling choices. Years ago, when easyJet opened their first air route - Edinburgh-Luton - I pretty quickly transferred my allegiance away from high-cost carriers. The Bank's contracted travel agent was very grumpy about it. But in cutting my costs to a quarter of what they had previously been, I grew a thick skin and turned a deaf ear to their complaints.

As a Minister, I had to travel to a UN Climate Change Conference in Poznan, Poland. The Government's contracted travel agents wanted £600 return to get me there. I suggested that sounded a bit steep and found a flight, with Wizz Air, that took us from Prestwick to Poland for £20. The plane was brand new, albeit we landed at Poznan at 0300 hours. My Private Secretary may, after a decade, have started to think about forgiving my parsimoniousness.

She was better pleased when we travelled for two-thirds the proposed British Airways fare from Edinburgh to Beijing by using KLM. And managed to sneak into the best seats on their aircraft.

So welcome back Scotrail. I'll be there and be wearing my facemask.

Join the club. They have.



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Train time

After one hundred and seventy-four days, I resumed sitting in our Parliament's debating chamber. It was the first time I have seen how members dialling in by video-link look and sound at the "business end". I found that I was a bit rusty. My only oral contribution this week was to ask a question. As I approached the end of it, a sound from a mobile phone totally distracted me. Worried that it was my own phone, I paused and for about a second, lost the thread of what I was saying. I wasn't that pleased with my neighbour when they returned to their seat. Their phone, not mine. It just shows that one can travel backwards in one's abilities. Like an athlete who has had an extended layoff and loses muscle tone, my brain had retreated from its previous peak of perfection. Next week will be our first proper three day week. I think I will ease myself in by participating in the two Member's debates scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday. That will be about eleven hu

A public debate about privatisation

Yesterday I tweeted from the Financial Times. I subscribe to the FT, so perhaps that's not too surprising. Martin Wolf is their Chief Economics Commentator and has seen sufficient economic shocks during his life as a journalist to deserve to be listened to when he writes as he did; "We almost certainly [...] need to take the provision of at least some essential public services out of the hands of privatised businesses." He has also commented, a week ago, on some of the effects of the pandemic on countries already struggling, saying; "in emerging and developing countries, the crisis threatens severe underfunding of important health and welfare programmes" I am not here to heap peons of praise upon his already "be-jewelled" shoulders. Others can do that. But he does alert us to the need for radical public policy and practice shifts. I have not seen him commenting on the merger of the UK's Foreign Office with the Government's internati

End of an Era 2016-2021

Written for  Holyrood magazine's "The End of an era 2016-2021"  published 07 April 2021.    Neil Findlay is the man who loves you to hate him. As he rises from his habitual place in a distant corner of the Parliamentary Chamber, a snarl as firmly attached to his face as he is disconnected to any symbol of middle-class values such as a tie, tension flows as he selects his target for the day. Is it dapper John Scott? The record-holder for the shortest time between his being sworn in and making his first speech in Parliament; a mere twenty hours. Does Willie Rennie attract his ire? Confession; we went to the same school. Almost anything liberal is bound to attract this Labour very-back-bencher’s contumely. Greens rarely attract his attention but he should remember that John Finnie, another member of this year’s escape committee, can efficiently direct a canine arrest. Now of course, I have sought to avoid any engagement with the fellow. I never, just never, even acknow