How the Government could keep train fares down

The Government should also introduce a fuel tax on domestic flights, raising £460 million a year – enough to make up for revenue lost by cutting rather than increasing train fares.

By Richard Hebditch, campaigns director at Campaign for Better Transport, who are currently running Fair Fares Now campaign to keep down rail costs

This morning’s  announcement of the latest retail price index (RPI) inflation figure of 5 per cent, which will be used to calculate January’s  train fare increases, means regulated fares are rising four times faster than wages with some set to rise as much as 13 per cent next year.

By 2015 fares will be around 28 per cent higher than they are now.

The Government ahould drop their inflation-busting fare rises and instead cap regulated fares at RPI minus 1%.  We want to see cheaper, simpler and fairer rail tickets that provide good value for money and actually encourage people to use the train.

In the shorter term, the Government should also introduce a fuel tax on domestic flights, which currently get off scott free.

If the tax was introduced at the same rate as motoring fuel tax, it would raise around £460 million a year – enough to make up for revenue lost by cutting rather than increasing train fares.

The Government is promising improvements for passengers some way down the line but people will be paying more now for, in many cases, a worse service and at a time when people are least able to afford it.

Rather than penalising commuters we should be looking to cut the costs of the railway which are 40 per cent higher than equivalent countries. The Government knows the industry’s costs are too high and have already identified potential cost savings of up to £1 billion a year in the future – that should allow for investment and lower fares – the savings shouldn’t just be clawed back into government coffers.

No-one expects taxpayers to pay for all the costs of the railway but most people recognise that supporting our railways helps not only the passengers using trains, but also has much wider benefits in reducing congestion and cutting carbon. We’d soon start to see many more gridlocked roads if we the only source of income for the railway were farepayers.

The taxpayer contribution has already gone down significantly since the increase in spending after the chaos of the situation under Railtrack, with about a third of all spending on rail coming from the taxpayer.

It’s right that there should be a debate on what the contribution should be but the Government hides so much of the information about spending and income because of “commercial confidentiality” so it’s very difficult to have that open debate.

The railways bring huge benefits to society and not just to those who use them – tackling climate change, providing access to jobs, moving goods so that we can reduce the number of lorries on our roads – all these justify taxpayer support.

The Government is conducting a fare review in the Autumn and we’ll be pressuring them to look again at their above inflation fare rises. As the thousands of signatures we’ve collected through our national petition shows, there is real anger out there and the Government would be foolish to ignore that.

You can join the Fair Fares now campiagn here. Campaigners were at Waterloo Station this morning to spread the message:

 

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