Big Debate: Rail fares increase

Commuters buy train tickets at Victoria station (John Stillwell/PA Wire)

Commuters buy train tickets at Victoria station (John Stillwell/PA Wire) - Credit: PA

Most commuters across London will be paying more to travel after their rail fares increased by 2.8 per cent last week.

Martin Abrams, Campaign for Better Transport

Martin Abrams, Campaign for Better Transport - Credit: Archant

Some fares have been frozen, while others are set to increase later this month.

Robert Oxley, Taxpayers' Alliance

Robert Oxley, Taxpayers' Alliance - Credit: Archant

This week, two campaign groups with different solutions to the issue of how to fund a high-quality transport service debate the price changes – Martin Abrams, public transport campaigner for the Campaign for Better Transport, and Robert Oxley, campaign director for the Taxpayers’ Alliance

Martin Abrams, Campaign for Better Transport

Returning to work last week after the Christmas break, lots of you will have been faced with the annual hike in the cost of your season ticket.

With rail fares increasing by an average of 2.8 per cent, and by as much as 5.1pc on some routes, and with London bus and underground fares increasing too, many commuters are wondering how they are going to afford to get to work.

We have some of the most expensive rail fares in Europe and for many families this is unsustainable.

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The chancellor’s decision to end the decade of inflation-busting fare rises in his Autumn Statement prevented worse increases last week, but the gap between wages and fares continues to widen.

With above inflation fare rises still planned for the general election year in 2015 and beyond, politicians need to listen to their constituents and abandon further increases to ensure rail travel is genuinely affordable.

A report we released to coincide with the annual fare rises showed that by the next parliament the income from fares will not only cover the entire running costs of the railways, the government will actually start seeing a profit from rail passengers.

We think this is unacceptable and believe that the government should re-examine its fares’ policy as a matter of urgency, and commit to a fairer system that ensures fares only rise in line with wages.

Commuters are also voters and with an election looming next year, politicians ought to be listening to the anger that’s growing.

At Campaign for Better Transport we regularly hear from people whose season ticket costs more than their mortgage – and that can’t be right.

Trains benefit everyone, they help the economy, they enable people to get to work, they help the environment and keep cars off our roads.

The government must show they are on the side of hard-working commuters and ensure that rail travel isn’t out of reach for ordinary people.

Robert Oxley, Taxpayers’ Alliance

The rail network was hit by storms in the new year, but not just the meteorological kind.

A political storm, whipped up by the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT), has dominated the headlines. Rail fare rises are never nice, especially when you’re struggling with rising rents, the Christmas hangover and sky-high energy bills.

But beware campaigners demanding free gifts – because you’ll be the one paying.

CBT claimed that commuters will soon contribute more to the Treasury than it will cost to run the railways – a ludicrous statement that ignores that taxpayers already pay to build and maintain the rail network.

All the while the CBT also agitate for higher subsidies from taxpayers to cap fares.

Demanding taxpayers pay more won’t solve the problem.

It’s a regressive proposal that shifts the burden of paying for rail travel from better paid commuters on to everyone else, including those on the minimum wage.

The cost of rail travel wouldn’t go down, but the poor would pay more to subsidise it – an absurd situation.

Should commuters just grin and bear it?

No, consumers have a right to argue that using the railways is becoming prohibitively expensive.

We need to fix the mess the rail network is in. That means more passenger choice, breaking up a failing Network Rail and cutting out dud investments like High Speed 2.

We need genuine competition on our railways and less interfering from politicians. Thanks to our broken franchise system, few of us can choose which train company we use. When passengers have a choice, such as on the line from London to Birmingham, punctuality goes up, prices come down and journey numbers increase. Only reform and greater freedom will deliver improvements for commuters.

Throwing more taxpayers’ cash at the problem will leave everyone with emptier wallets.

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