Rail (UK)

Con­cern over sug­ges­tions of 2.6% in­crease in rail fares

- Richard Clin­nick Head of News richard.clin­nick@bauer­me­dia.co.uk @Richard_rail

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”.

 ?? MICK TINDALL. ?? North­ern 195009 stands at Bam­ford on Novem­ber 13, with the 2114 Sh­effield-Manch­ester Pic­cadilly. Pas­sen­gers face the prospect of a fares in­crease in Jan­uary, ac­cord­ing to na­tional re­ports.
MICK TINDALL. North­ern 195009 stands at Bam­ford on Novem­ber 13, with the 2114 Sh­effield-Manch­ester Pic­cadilly. Pas­sen­gers face the prospect of a fares in­crease in Jan­uary, ac­cord­ing to na­tional re­ports.
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