The urgent need for fairer railway fares has been highly visible across the media this week.
The basis of passenger’s anger is threefold. First, fares are going up three times faster than salaries, continuing a decade-long trend of above inflation rises.
Second, we already pay significantly more for rail travel than anyone else in Europe – 75% more than the next most expensive country for the most common ticket types like season tickets.
Third, it’s unclear where it will end – the government has given a commitment to ending above inflation rises, but has set no date for doing this.
Why do our trains cost so much? The government rightly cites the investments being made in the network which is supposed to produce more reliable services and better stations.
This is pricey– the UK network is at its core still based on the Victorian network which is expensive to maintain let alone improve. The spending is needed to reverse many years of underfunding, but Network Rail is on target to cut the state’s share of spending on rail to 25% by 2014.
Is government’s spending value for public money? Undoubtedly so – on the economy, Network Rail estimates that 1 billion work-related journeys are undertaken on the railways every year. Pricing people off the trains and onto the roads – or out of work altogether – would be economically illiterate.
Rail is often more sustainable than other transport options, too. If public transport is too expensive – ‘a rich man’s toy’ as former transport Secretary Philip Hammond dubbed the railways – then poorer households are either less able to travel or completely reliant on the car, with all the attendant impacts on congestion and social isolation.
Railways make for good towns and cities. Development around railways tends to be higher density and less car dependent. This uses less land, supports existing communities and is the very antithesis of modern car-based sprawl which blights so many towns.
Finally, we need a decent rail network if we are to get anywhere near our environmental responsibilities. Because it’s more efficient, a well-used train network produces significantly less carbon emissions than transport based only around roads. As such, rail is part of any serious emissions reduction strategy.
What next? Campaign for Better Transport’s Fair Fares Now campaign is an important focus for commuters’ anger. Before the fare rises kick in at the beginning of January, we will be pushing government to call a halt to RPI plus 3% – as they did last year – and matching the support it showed to road users in postponing the planned rise in road fuel duty.
Government must also make an announcement on when it will enact its commitment to end above inflation increases.