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Things I like that I may have to decide are bad... - Sally's Journal
November 22nd, 2011
07:52 pm

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Things I like that I may have to decide are bad...
This article claims the sleeper train is subsidised by £17,000 per departure. This is a ludicrous sum of money. [I did a quick google, and can't actually find out where they got the figure from]. As far as I can tell, the sleeper is already generally more expensive than flying, and is mostly used by people wanting to go on holiday, visit family, or commuting for work. These are all things I don't disapprove of, but I'm not sure they're worth 17,000 per train.

In other news, the RSPB are running this strange campaign. It turns out there is the Landfill Communities Fund, where landfill companies give money to Good Environmental Charities, like the RSPB, and get 90% of it back as tax relief. Obviously, this results in landfill companies losing out to the tune of 10%, so there is a clause that an independent 3rd party can make up the 10% they've lost, presumably to encourage landfill companies to do this 'good thing'. So the RSPB are encouraging people to donate money to the Nature Trust (Sandy). This is a charity that is, in the words of the RSPB, "an independent charity set up to help unlock money from the Landfill Communities Fund for RSPB conservation projects". Sigh. I'm sure most of you know that I don't like gift aid and other tax-back schemes at the best of times, but this just feels like the ikkiest sort of playing the system...

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From:djw
Date:November 22nd, 2011 08:18 pm (UTC)
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I am not sure the figure is so bad. Depending on whether there is space for an attendant or not, the sleepers carry up to 24 or 26 people per carriage: 50 per pair. There are six sleeper carriages per destination (according to Wikipedia; though this is certainly not the case for the FTW leg, which I think is two), so let's say about 300 beds available. There is also a seated coach, seating about 30. That's quite a lot of space, and it can fill up completely at weekends and on summer holidays.

If the train load factor is 80%, then that's about 65 quid subsidy per traveller. Most of whom will have paid at least similar amount themselves, at a guess, given the yield management of cheap fares.

Now if Transport Scotland take the sleeper to be both a driver of tourism and also handy for businessmen, they might argue that it justifies the cost. Rural railway lines feature similar rates of subsidy to ticket cost, even if the 'cost per departure' is less eye-watering; those trains, however, are much smaller. And there, the subsidy is justified by the service connecting small, remote communities (say, Achnasheen) with regional centres (say, Inverness). Scale up the sizes of the two communities being compared (Aviemore and London) and I think the rationale is fairly solid.

Life would, of course, be much simpler if we could just run sleeper trains through the Channel Tunnel (like we were promised...). Then Edinburgh-Paris would make an attractive journey.
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From:catyak
Date:November 22nd, 2011 08:29 pm (UTC)
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Of course, the EU want to end all transport subsidies, everything should be priced according to cost. All of a sudden, using your own car or flying, would become much cheaper than bus or train, exactly what the government don't want to happen.

D
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From:atreic
Date:November 22nd, 2011 08:35 pm (UTC)
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But why? I don't understand it. Moving a metal box with one person in it ought to be more inefficient than a bus or train???
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From:catyak
Date:November 22nd, 2011 08:51 pm (UTC)
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Bureaucracy and overheads. The cost of the train journey itself may be cheaper, but add in something to pay for the maintenance staff, the station staff, spares, etc and it soon adds up.

As for buses, a double-decker does about 4.5mpg, based on plucking a number from Google. So your average bus needs to have eight to ten passengers to beat a single-occupant car doing about 40mpg on the same route (the bus driver doesn't count). At peak times this is easily achieved, but how many buses are travelling off-peak with less than that number? They're stopping and starting a lot, too. Add the overheads again, driver wages, maintenance staff, bus garage, etc.

ETA: There's a reference in Hansard that claims the average number of passengers per bus is 9, for what that's worth.

D


Edited at 2011-11-22 09:00 pm (UTC)
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From:emperor
Date:November 22nd, 2011 09:22 pm (UTC)
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We massively subsidize air travel, of course, because the duty on aviation fuel is much much lower than on other sorts of fuel e.g. petrol.

Edited at 2011-11-22 09:22 pm (UTC)
From:yrieithydd
Date:November 22nd, 2011 09:48 pm (UTC)
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And on car driving, because roads are paid for out of general taxation.
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From:didiusjulianus
Date:November 22nd, 2011 09:50 pm (UTC)
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How DID we manage to let THAT happen?!
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From:robert_jones
Date:November 23rd, 2011 02:40 am (UTC)
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The non incidence of a tax isn't a subsidy. Air travel is (I believe) a net source of income for the government, because of APD. Road travel is probably, in some sense, a greater net source of income (I'm not sure what the correct basis of comparison would be), whereas rail and bus travel are net costs, i.e. they really are subsidised.
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From:gerald_duck
Date:November 22nd, 2011 09:51 pm (UTC)
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Using one's own car is already cheaper than bus or train. Even my four-litre V8 is going to have a total running cost of under 20p per mile once I've got the LPG conversion done. Apparently the average price paid per mile by rail users is 19p. If I have a so much as a single passenger for even 10% of my journeys, the car is winning.

If one went flat out for economy to the exclusion of all other considerations, motoring could probably approach 10p/mile. And the seats would still be more comfortable than the ones on trains!
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From:angoel
Date:November 22nd, 2011 10:05 pm (UTC)
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How does the economics change if you take the cost of your time driving the car into account?
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From:arnhem
Date:November 22nd, 2011 11:19 pm (UTC)
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I note that the M6 toll road costs 18p / mile for cars.

Making the wild assumption that this represents the unsubsidised cost of highway provision, it rather alters the equation ...
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From:arnhem
Date:November 22nd, 2011 11:15 pm (UTC)
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end all transport subsidies

So no road maintenance by local or central government, then?

Edited at 2011-11-22 11:15 pm (UTC)
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From:robert_jones
Date:November 23rd, 2011 03:03 am (UTC)
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the EU want to end all transport subsidies

Do you have a source for that?
From:hsenag
Date:November 22nd, 2011 09:28 pm (UTC)
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Would you consider it worse if the government just picked some charities and gave 6.2% of the receipts from landfill tax to them?
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From:atreic
Date:November 22nd, 2011 09:33 pm (UTC)
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No, better. I think (although the older I get the less this is true) that a carefully thought through central decision about where money can be best spent is better than money being allocated by the emotional response of the upper-middle-classes, particularly if that's been manipulated by marketing campaigns.
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From:didiusjulianus
Date:November 22nd, 2011 09:44 pm (UTC)
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Yes that does seem quite a high subsidy. What the article presumably doesn't tell us, though, is how much all the OTHER departures actually cost the taxpayer. Plenty of government money goes to all the train companies, especially when they make a loss on a franchise (but they sure keep the profits when a franchise does well, even if they own more than one franchise and they'd be in the black overall, for example - that's quite a good deal that one!).

Why do you not like gift aid etc.? And what part of what you have explained above seems ikky? I don't understand.
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From:passage
Date:November 22nd, 2011 10:40 pm (UTC)
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Gift Aid does worry me in that if I were for example going to make Islam illegal, my first act would be to introduce gift aid. That way after a few years every Mosque is financially dependant on the government, and you have a complete list of the names and addresses of any tax paying Muslim serious about their faith.

Given that gift aid has been around for about 10 years without a crackdown I think the party (Labour?) that introduced it were happily not thinking the same way.
From:hsenag
Date:November 22nd, 2011 10:59 pm (UTC)
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One feature of the current scheme that weakens your idea slightly is that the names and addresses aren't sent to the government proactively, although HMRC can demand to see them if they want.
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From:gerald_duck
Date:November 23rd, 2011 09:18 pm (UTC)
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Not everyone who makes gift-aided donations to a mosque is a Muslim. Some of them might, for example, donate because they're so pissed off with the English Defence League and all the nimby naysayers.

I am, of course, speaking entirely hypothetically. Nod. (-8
From:hsenag
Date:November 22nd, 2011 09:49 pm (UTC)
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BTW, regarding gift aid, would you also prefer that people who volunteer for charities pay income tax on the notional income their labour is worth?
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From:gerald_duck
Date:November 22nd, 2011 09:54 pm (UTC)
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What's your objection to tax rebates?

How do you feel about consumption taxes? I tend to view rebates such as Gift Aid as, in effect, a negative consumption tax on donating to charity.
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From:didiusjulianus
Date:November 24th, 2011 06:29 pm (UTC)
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Hypothetically, atreic, would you therefore object to receiving (and hence not claim) Child Benefit, Child or Working Tax Credit, or pension credits, if you were in a position to be entitled to them? Indeed would you object to having a higher tax threshold if you were over 85 or whatever it is?
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From:pavanne
Date:November 24th, 2011 05:00 pm (UTC)

Philosophy of government subsidy

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I think about this a lot. I also spoke to the Financial Times about it last week and have since got a lot of flack for these comments:
http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/863ec066-153a-11e1-855a-00144feabdc0.html

Ultimately, I think that if governments pass bloody stupid legislation with unintended consequences, it's not unethical to play the system. If honest people play the system openly, the government can adjust it to get rid of the worst unintended consequences. People who were playing the system then have to stop and not complain.

The trouble with opposing *any* subsidy (the roughly GBP 200m/year already committed to rich people's UK solar investments, or the GBP 17,000 per sleeper train) is that people always find worse wastes of money to compare it with.
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From:viviannaupe
Date:December 1st, 2011 11:35 pm (UTC)

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