Richard Hebditch is Campaigns Director for the Campaign for Better Transport
Yesterday’s announcement of a 9.4bn investment in rail is good news but many people won’t benefit as they simply can’t afford rail travel.
Due to the government’s plans for massive fare rises over the next two years, the announcement will be redundant to many.
The investment plan, billed as the greatest modernisation of the railway network since the Victorian era, will start in 2014 and include ambitious plans to electrify lines and upgrade stations and tracks.
However, claims by transport minister Justine Greening that passengers must foot the bill now are not justified.
There are good reasons why the government can invest without making passengers pay more.
Firstly, 85 per cent of public spending on rail goes on maintaining and improving the infrastructure. People accept public spending to maintain road infrastructure and the wider benefits of rail investment justify it for our railways.
Support for improved rail infrastructure is what is needed to make up for decades of stop-start investment and for rail to help unlock our cities and enable them to thrive.
Secondly, public spending is already falling as a share of income for rail. There is no reason to hike fare rises further. In the past, there might just have been a reason for above inflation fare rises when wages were rising at the same level, but now it will price people off trains.
Thirdly, there are alternative ways to pay for this without penalising passengers. Putting fuel duty on flights within Great Britain would raise over £400m a year which could pay for freezing fares and encourage people to use trains for domestic trips.
Finally, it’s not just taxpayers and farepayers that fund railways. A tenth of the industry’s income comes from other sources and there is potential for more private funding available, particularly in.stations or new links.
Last Autumn, the government accepted that their plan to raise fares by 3% above inflation for 2012 was wrong in tough economic times. As these pressures haven’t lifted, surely there is no good reason why it’s right to hit passengers with steep fare hikes for the next two years.