Campaign for Better Transport urges a ban on UK domestic flights (where the train takes under 5 hours) and subsidised rail travel
The Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) says domestic flights should be banned on routes where the train journey would take under 5 hours (or to islands). They also want long-distance domestic train fares subsidised, in order to reduce the carbon emissions from travel within the UK. There should NOT be any cut in the rate of Air Passenger Duty for domestic fights, as the aviation industry is lobbying for. The CBT says there should also be mandatory emissions labels on tickets and a frequent flyer levy for those taking more than three international flights per year. There can be no justification, in terms of carbon emissions, for flights – for example – between Manchester and London, London and Edinburgh or Birmingham and Glasgow. Sadly at present, rail fares are often FAR higher than plane fares. In a staged “race” from central London to central Glasgow, the person taking the train arrived two minutes later (5 hours 17 minutes, and 19 minutes), and the train journey emitted less than one-sixth of the carbon emissions of the flight – 20kg compared with 137kg. But it cost twice as much at £109 v £52.
Ban UK domestic flights and subsidise rail travel, urges transport charity
Exclusive: Campaign for Better Transport calls on government to end ‘climate disaster’ of internal flights
By Gwyn Topham Transport correspondent @GwynTopham (The Guardian)
Mon 11 Oct 2021
Domestic flights should be banned and long-distance train fares subsidised, transport campaigners have urged, highlighting the relative environmental and financial costs of air and rail travel.
The Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) called on ministers to outlaw internal UK flights if an equivalent train journey took less than five hours and to resist calls for any cut in air passenger duty.
Mandatory emissions labels on tickets and a frequent flyer levy should also be introduced, the charity said.
The demands came before the 27 October budget, in which the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, may decide to cut taxes on domestic flights in response to pressure from the aviation industry, a possibility mooted by the prime minister earlier this year. Such a move could, however, prove an embarrassment a week before the UK hosts the Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow.
The proposed ban would not affect isolated communities or the longest UK air corridors, but would hit flights such as Manchester to London, London to Edinburgh and Birmingham to Glasgow.
Passengers should be offered cheaper train tickets, while anyone taking more than three international flights a year would be required to pay a frequent flyer levy, the campaign proposes.
Paul Tuohy, the chief executive of CBT said: “Cheap domestic flights might seem a good deal when you buy them, but they are a climate disaster, generating seven times more harmful greenhouse emissions than the equivalent train journey.
“Making the train cheaper will boost passenger numbers and help reduce emissions from aviation, but any cut to air passenger duty – coupled with a rise in rail fares in January – will send the wrong message about how the government wants people to travel and mean more people choosing to fly.”
British Airways now offsets carbon emissions on all domestic flights and there are hopes that short-haul electric planes could operate internally within 15 years. [Probably unduly optimistic – and that electricity will also not be generated from 100% renewables. AW comment]
However, “jet zero” ambitions remain some way from reality and CBT argues that major internal routes are feasible by direct train instead, with similar journey times once airport journeys and formalities are factored in. However, ticket prices are often prohibitive.
In a staged “race” carried out on Friday from central London to Glasgow city centre, Tuohy took the plane and – including airport transfers and check-in – arrived in five hours 17 minutes, two minutes before the former transport minister Norman Baker, who travelled by train. CBT said the train journey emitted less than one-sixth of the carbon emissions of the flight – 20kg compared with 137kg – but cost twice as much at £109 v £52.
Rail fares have risen steadily above inflation for well over a decade. A walk-up return ticket to travel on morning train services between London and Manchester now costs £369.40, while an off-peak return is £94.50 between the capital and northern England’s biggest city.
The government has not announced a decision on further rail fare increases, but should they follow the RPI+1% formula the cost could increase by another 4.8% in January. Ministers are keen to reduce rail subsidy after spending an additional £8bn to cover lost revenue during the pandemic.
Passenger numbers have returned to around 65% of pre-Covid levels, according to the latest Department for Transport figures.
French lawmakers in the National Assembly approve a ban on domestic flights, where train takes under 2hrs 30mins
In a recent vote, the French National Assembly voted to abolish domestic flights by any airline on routes than can be covered by train in under two-and-a-half hours, as the government seeks to lower carbon emissions – even while the airline industry has been hit by the pandemic. A citizens’ climate forum established by Macron to help form climate policy had called for the scrapping of flights on routes where the train journey is below 4 hours, or 6 hours. The bill goes to the Senate before a third and final vote in the lower house, where Macron’s ruling party and allies dominate. The measure is part of a broader climate bill that aims to cut French carbon emissions by 40% in 2030 from 1990 levels, though activists accuse President Emmanuel Macron of watering down earlier promises in the draft legislation. However, the French government will contribute to a €4 billion ($4.76 billion) recapitalisation of Air France, more than doubling its stake in the airline, to keep it going during the Covid crisis. The Industry Minister said there was no contradiction between the bailout and the climate bill (sic) and despite carbon targets, companies had to be supported. McKinsey analysts forecast that air traffic may not return to 2019 levels before 2024.
France to ban commercial flights on shortest domestic routes
Government advised to halve domestic APD and review distance bands for the tax
Boris Johnson is set to authorise a 50% cut in APD for domestic flights. Senior Whitehall sources say he will announce a review of the tax, which is the only tax on air tickets (on which no tax or VAT is paid). Currently APD is charged at £13 for any adult leaving a UK airport, so that is the cost for any return flight to anywhere in Europe. For domestic flights (for which there is usually a rail alternative) the tax is £26, so it is charged on leaving both airports. The review will also look at the case for increasing the number of international distance bands. Since 2015, there have only been two bands, one covering flights of up to 2,000 miles and the other those in excess of that. The plans to change APD will be put to a consultation, so it is unlikely to be introduced until 2022. The recommendations are part of a wider Union Connectivity Review by Sir Peter Hendy, the chairman of Network Rail, to be published on 10th March, proposing a new “UK Strategic Transport Network” to oversee British transport priorities. Critics say the 50% domestic APD cut — coming just days after fuel duty was frozen for the 10th consecutive year — and rail fare rises, further undermine ministers’ commitment to cutting carbon a target of net-zero carbon by 2050. Doug Parr, chief scientist for Greenpeace UK, said this would “continue our nonsensical trend of the higher the carbon, the lower the tax.”