The Government is considering whether to increase rail fares in January. If it raises them by one per cent above RPI as planned, we could soon be paying almost five per cent more to travel by train.
This could have disastrous effects.
During the pandemic, the number of rail passengers fell to its lowest level in 170 years. Even now, rail travel is only at around 65 per cent of pre-Covid levels. Meanwhile car journeys are at around 90 to 110 per cent.
If these habits stick, the dangers are real: climate change, pollution and traffic-clogged streets; dwindling public transport leaving non-drivers stranded.
The Government must encourage people back onto the railways. Increasing rail fares would have the exact opposite effect.
Some in Government don't seem to appreciate this. They think that increasing fares is the way to bring more money into the railways. But we know that a fare rise would discourage many people from travelling by rail, while a fare freeze would mean more passengers and potentially more income.
To show this, we asked our supporters to tell us where they would like to travel by rail in 2022 unless fares get too expensive. More than 500 people told us. Many people, like Alan and Michael, would like to travel by rail for leisure, boosting the economy in tourist destinations without clogging up roads:
I'd like to travel to Penzance to visit the Isles of Scilly for a holiday. This journey is already expensive by train and if fares increase further it will force us to go by car.
- Alan, Liverpool
We want to take the grandchildren to York Railway Museum - but a family of 4+ by train is expensive.
- Michael, Altrincham
Others, like Claire, are longing to visit family after a long wait:
I am planning to visit my family in the south of England who I haven't seen for two years, and it's important to me because they are getting older so each visit is precious.
- Claire, Edinburgh
Many people, like Katherine and Joanne, just want to be able to get to work:
I just want to commute to work, but prices have already risen significantly and there are fewer trains. At the moment I have reverted to driving.
- Katherine, Bromsgrove
I would like to resume my daily commute between Hove and Chichester but will have to keep on working from home if it becomes too expensive.
- Joanne, Brighton and Hove
Today, together with some rail passengers, we delivered a giant postcard to the Chancellor at 11 Downing Street, with many of these comments on it. We wanted to make the point that transport is at a crossroads: if we want a green future, it's vital that the Government freezes rail fares for 2022 to encourage people back onto the railways.
Beyond this, we want to see major reform of rail fares to make them fit for the future and make rail travel more attractive. For instance, we'd like to see pay-as-you-go ticketing (like London's Oyster scheme) in more places, with price capping so no one pays too much. And we want a much better flexible season ticket for people who commute part time.
If you agree that the Government should do more to protect and improve public transport - and encourage people back on board - please take a minute to add your name to our campaign, The way forward is public transport.