02/01/2013 12:58 GMT | Updated 04/03/2013 05:12 GMT

Off the Rails

The new year brought with it the news that rail fares are going up even more in the UK, even surpassing the increase to average incomes. Considering what you get for the amount of money you pay for a rail journey in this country and considering how essential it is that we encourage people to use public transportation, this rise in fares is something we need to rail against.

In a recent article in the New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert wrote about the importance of carbon tax on petrol as a way of helping to curb car usage and of eventually having an impact on climate change. The extreme weather we've been seeing lately is proof - if we needed any more - that we must start taking climate change seriously.

Kolbert, who is always sensible on environmental issues, has a point about petrol tax. But I'd like to propose a few other things as well, and this ties in to the issue of rail fares.

First of all, let's lower the cost of using public transportation, as a way of encouraging people to use trains and buses rather than their own cars and taxis. At the moment, rail fares are prohibitively high. For example, I live in Norwich and have to go to London fairly regularly for work. This is just a two-hour journey and yet can cost more than £100 for a return ticket. You can get a cheaper ticket if you book in plenty of time and choose the exact (usually off-peak) times you want to travel, but whether you're travelling for work or for pleasure, you often don't know exactly when you're going to be coming back. It makes absolutely no sense to insist that people specify times or risk paying two or more times as much in fares. Also, for £100 in other countries, you can get much further than the 120 miles between Norwich and London.

Besides lowering the cost, adding additional routes so that it's easier for people to take public transportation would be helpful. Great Britain is a small island nation and it shouldn't be that difficult to get from one place to another. And yet, it often is a challenge that requires multiple transfers and long waiting times and delayed or cancelled services. No wonder people jump in their cars rather than hop on trains or buses. As well as assisting people so they could get from point A to point B and saving on exhaust fumes from cars, having more routes would help ease traffic, which in turn could make people's road rage and stress levels go down.

And, finally, having dedicated biking lanes on roads - as you see in many northern European countries - would encourage more people to ride their bikes since it would be safer and simpler to bike to work or to run errands. And having more bike racks at bus and train stations would ensure that people could ride there instead of taking their cars, thereby getting exercising while also benefitting the environment.

In short, it wouldn't take that much to train our sights on improving public transportation, and it would have many knock-on effects. But it seems as though railroad companies and others involved have gone off the rails here. To really start combatting climate change and to get people to use public transportation more often, fares need to be much lower. Politicians need to set in motion the policies that will help the environment, and this includes encouraging people to use buses, trains, and bicycles more than cars.

As the new year starts, let's train our sights on improving public transportation.