Concern over suggestions of 2.6% increase in rail fares
SHADOW Transport Secretary Jim McMahon has warned against an inflation-busting rise in rail fares.
His comments follow newspaper reports that the Government is planning a 2.6% rise on regulated tickets from January. It’s suggested this will be used as a method to repay financial support that the railway has received from Government since March 23, after lockdown was introduced to combat COVID-19.
“It would make travel more unaffordable at a time when it is vital to secure the future of the network,” said McMahon.
“The Government’s incompetent approach means British taxpayers are paying the profit of rail companies owned by foreign governments. Instead, we should bring the network in-house, providing better value for the taxpayer and passengers.”
The possibility of increased fares came only days after industry leaders including Network Rail Chairman Sir Peter Hendy CBE warned of investment cuts and a reduction in services if passengers fail to return in large numbers ( RAIL 918).
Department for Transport spokeswoman Freya Smith said: “Passengers deserve punctual and reliable journeys at a fair price. That is why we are investing billions into modernising the network, as well as investing billions throughout the pandemic to ensure the rail sector stands ready to support our national recovery.
“Discussions continue on upcoming fare changes. While we won’t comment on speculation, we must ensure any changes are fair to taxpayers who have provided unprecedented support.”
Smith explained that up until late June, the train operating companies (including publicly owned LNER and Northern) had received £2.28 billion in Government payments in three months. He claimed fares had been capped in line with inflation for seven years running.
DfT said that revenue collected from fares fell to less than 5% of pre-COVID levels during the national lockdown. There was no mention of the impact of the messages to stay at home and avoid public transport.
DfT also highlighted that refunds have been delivered on all advance fares, while charges for cancellations have been waived for COVID-affected journeys.
However, passenger numbers are still less than a third of what they were a year ago, according to latest Government figures for the second lockdown.
Figures for November 9 showed that rail passenger numbers were at 27% of the level recorded on the equivalent day in 2019 - a month earlier the figure was at 36%. For cars, usage on November 9 was at 70% of the equivalent day in the first week of February 2020 (a month earlier it had been 88%).
Additionally, West Midlands Trains revealed on November 13 that even before the second lockdown, passenger numbers were not returning to prepandemic levels.
For the week ending February
29, WMT carried almost 1.6 million passengers, which dropped to fewer than 100,000 by the week ending April 11.
As lockdown measures eased, passenger numbers climbed to a peak of more than 400,000 at the week ending September 12, but numbers then began to fall and had dropped below 400,000 in the first week of November as the second lockdown began.
On August 19, it was confirmed that fares would increase by 1.6%, in line with July 2020’s Retail Prices Index (RPI).
Even then, passenger watchdog Transport Focus called for Government to “go above and beyond a fares freeze and introduce cut-price deals, carnet-style bundles, flexible season tickets for commuters, and better value for money”.