Train fare rises will drive passengers away from rail travel, unions and campaigners have warned.
Train fare rise of about 2.9% is expected to be confirmed today, leading to an increase of more than £100 in annual commuting costs for many passengers. Bruce Williamson, from campaign group Rail future, said: “It might be that we’ve now reached the point where we cannot simply put fares up and expect passengers to take the hit. They will just give up and refuse to pay. They will either find another job or another form of transport.” The rise will be based on the Retail Prices Index (RPI) inflation measure for July. Analysts expect that figure to be around 2.9%, meaning a significant shift in season ticket costs.
The Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) has long pressed for a different method of calculating fares. It calls for the most widely watched and used measure of inflation, the Consumer Prices Index (CPI), to be used instead of RPI. Last month, the CPI figure was 2%. The Daily Mail says that “the RPI measure of inflation is often discredited”. Rail fare rises are never popular but have continued despite public concern. A briefing paper published by the House of Commons Library shows that since privatisation in 1995 and last year, average fares increased in real terms by 20%. ITV explains that “it has been the policy of successive governments to switch the burden of funding the railways from taxpayers to passengers”.
The latest rise comes “after a decade when fares have risen at double the rate of wages”, The Guardian says. Defending rises, Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris said: “It’s tempting to suggest fares should never rise. However, the truth is that if we stop investing in our railway then we will never see it improved.” Labour says the shift means passengers are “paying more for less”. Andy McDonald, the shadow transport secretary, said: “Rail travel has got more expensive every year in real terms under the Conservatives. What’s worse is that as rail performance and service quality has declined passengers are paying more for less.”
The TUC trade union also attacked the rises. The group said private train operators paid out £200m in dividends to their shareholders in 2017-18 and received £3.8bn in public subsidy. It renewed its call for the railway to be renationalised, arguing it would lead to lower ticket prices. “We’re already paying the highest ticket prices in Europe to travel on overcrowded and understaffed trains,” said the union’s general secretary Frances O’Grady. Although UK rail journeys reached a record 1.76bn in 2018/19, those made using season tickets have fallen in the past three years, from 712mn in 2015/16 to 625mn in 2018/19. The Rail Delivery Group says 98p of every pound spent on train fares is invested back into the railway. After today, the next increase is expected in January 2020.