Fall in rail journeys comes after decades of growth
The number of rail passenger journeys in Britain fell sharply in spring this year, after two decades of virtually constant growth since privatisation. Analysts and industry observers said the figures were concerning, while Labour said it raised serious questions about the viability of franchises.
Figures from the Office of Rail and Road show that the total number of journeys was 407.5m from April through to the end of June, a decline of 4.6% compared with the same period last year. Journeys by passengers using season tickets fell by almost 13% year on year, with many switching to advance purchase tickets.
Commuter journeys in London and the south-east fell by 6.5%, including a drop of 8.8% on South West Trains (now South Western Railway), 5.3% on the troubled Govia Thameslink Railway (owner of Southern rail), 7.4% on Southeastern and 16.9% on London Overground.
The shadow transport secretary, Andy McDonald, said: “This substantial fall in rail usage reflects passenger frustration at the cost and inflexibility of the ticketing system and direction of the railway more broadly.”
Average fares have risen 27% since 2010, far faster than wages, while another 3.6% rise is due in January.
McDonald added: “The decline in patronage … raises serious questions about the government’s rail franchising programme which is based on ever-increasing rail patronage. I don’t believe the current model can sustain a downturn.” Industry sources said it called into question the sums paid for recent franchises. One said: “At a time when firms have paid massive premiums, they have got to be worried.”