The Labour MP for Brighton Kemptown on the government’s millennial railcard policy.
It was with great fanfare last Autumn that the chancellor, Philip Hammond, announced he was extending discount railcards to those aged 26 to 30, offering 4.5m travellers a third off their off-peak tickets. Finally, after years of mistreatment – tripling their tuition fees, raising their VAT, denying them access to housing – the government thought it had an offer for millennials.
The chancellors’ announcement didn’t go unnoticed: although I’m 31 and wouldn’t have been eligible, many of my friends remarked with relief at the thought of cheaper train fares. Yet, following the statement, the offer to 4.5m faded to a trial based solely in the Greater Anglia franchise area.
Two week ago I asked a Parliamentary Question seeking clarification from the government as to when my constituents in Sussex would be given access to the promised railcard. Its response was, “This is an industry-led trial and they will decide if it’s feasible.”
The same day that the government told me that this was solely a Greater Anglia trial, and that it was up to the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) to evaluate it’s feasibility, the RDG itself announced a further 10,000 places nationwide for the railcard. Which begs the question: who on earth is in charge of this process and why didn’t the government know what was happening?
With one day’s, notice a potential 4.5 million eligible customers had the chance to sign onto an ill-prepared website for the chance to claim one of 10,000 railcards. Predictably, the website crashed and the result is chaos.
Millennials turned to social media to air their frustrations with comments of comparisons to Glastonbury. Twitter user Richard Butler summed up the situation perfectly: “Can't think of a more apt metaphor for today's society than forcing millennials into a Hunger Games scenario for a 1 in 500 chance of not getting completely ripped off to do something that should be a basic right, on a website that doesn't even work.”
The day after the website crashed, Virgin Trains sarcastically tweeted that if millennials presented an avocado they could get a discount on their fares. I find it incredibly tone deaf that the Virgin PR machine would mock young people scrambling for some relief in their ever squeezed cost-of-living.
Virgin might be the tail wagging the dog, when it comes to this government’s rail policy. But its days of price gauging and spin are going to come to an end – and I have every confidence that a state run franchise will mean more avocado on the toast of millennials.
Ultimately, this sums up the government’s approach to young people. Millennials are an afterthought when it comes to housing, when it comes to higher education and, of course, when it comes to transport.
In 2017 I defeated a Conservative MP off the back of an increased turnout from young people. At the next election, millennials will express their views on this farcical process at the ballot box.
Labour is offering a fundamental change the way we run our public services – not half-baked unattainable railcards.
Lloyd Russell-Moyle is the Labour MP for Brighton Kemptown.