The day rail commuters hate

Today the Office for National Statistics publishes July's inflation figures and we see how much train fares will go up from January next year.

By Andrew Allen of the Campaign for Better Transport

This is the day rail commuters love to hate. Today the Office for National Statistics publishes July’s inflation figures and we see how much train fares will go up from January next year.

Under the Government’s current policy, train companies are allowed to raise regulated fares (which cover most tickets apart from Advance and intercity peak fares) by an average of the July Retail Prices Index inflation figure plus an additional one per cent. This means that from January next years a popular season ticket such as Cambridge to London will be 4.1% higher, costing £4,580 – an increase of £180 (see here for other examples).

If you think you have heard this story before, it’s because you have. Above inflation fares rises have been a matter of Government policy for over a decade. Initially, little attention was paid as the economy and passenger numbers stormed ahead. But in recent years, the policy has attracted increasing ire – not least from backbench Conservative MPs in marginal constituencies with large numbers of commuters. As the graph below shows, fares increases are significantly outstripping increases in wages. There are signs that passengers have taken as much as they can and demand for rail is beginning to plateau.

rail fares graph
This is hardly surprising. Over the last decade, a season ticket from Sevenoaks to London has increased by nearly 90%, from £1660 to £3112. Across the country, transport is now the biggest single monthly outgoing for the average household – costing more than food and housing. Sticking to a policy which makes it more expensive to get to work and prices some people out of jobs is simply taking a size ten boot to any green shoots of economic recovery.

On coming to power, the Coalition accepted that train users were being treated unfairly and pledged to tackle rail ticketing. But more than three years on, the only action has been two Government climbdowns on plans to ratchet up fares by even more – up to three per cent above inflation.

There is still time for Government to take action and support commuters and the economy before fares rises take effect. The much-delayed review of fares and ticketing is due to be published in the autumn. Government needs to use this to announce when it will end the above inflation fares formula and set out how it will make using the trains simple and affordable for everyone.

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