Today marks the day when train fares across the country increase. The Government will claim that fares have been "frozen" but whilst this is the lowest rise for 6 years this definitely isn't a fare freeze. Fares have increased by 1.1 per cent across the board meaning that since 2010 regulated train fares have increased by more than 25 per cent. An eyewatering increase.
Successive Governments have stuck with the policy of increasing fares using the outdated Retail Price Index measure. This has meant that in the last 6 years fares have increased by three time the pace of average wages. For many people this has simply meant being priced off our railways altogether.
The new normal is commuters paying out over £5,000 for their annual season ticket just to get to work. A friend of mine commutes from Canterbury to London and this year has been forced to pay over £6,000, more than her mortgage. The ridiculous thing is she's one of the lucky commuters as she works full time and her business provide a loan for the ticket. The thousands of commuters who work part time are still losing out big time as the Government sits on its hands seemingly making no progress on their manifesto pledge to introduce flexible tickets for part-time workers.
Passengers are becoming more and more frustrated with the current shambolic fares and ticketing system. Before Christmas we heard rumours that the Government's flagship smart ticketing programme South East Flexible Ticketing (SEFT) has been scrapped at a cost of over £40 million to the public purse. If true, then questions need to be answered urgently about how this was allowed to happen and why very little has been delivered for such a huge sum of money? As ever it is passengers who will suffer as a result and we'll be kept waiting even longer for smart ticketing that many European countries have had for well over 10 years.
On Monday we will publish commissioned research which shows that by 2020 Government income from the railways could increase threefold from £1.1 billion today to £3.5 billion, enough to reduce public spending on the railways by a quarter and introduce much needed fares and ticketing improvements such as flexible and affordable season tickets for part-time workers, Free travel for under 11s across England and Wales and using the Consumer Price Index (CPI), rather than the Retail Price Index (RPI), to set regulated fare rises in future.
The Labour Party has used today's fare increase to again call for the railway to be taken back into public ownership and the arguments for doing so are becoming stronger with public support growing across the political spectrum. The reason an increasing number of people are in support of renationalisation is because there is a growing trust deficit between train operators and passengers and in order for this trust issue to be fixed both the Government and train operating companies must do something radical on fares and ticketing.
They could start by making things simpler and more affordable for passengers and that is why today we renew our calls for them to introduce flexible season tickets for part time workers. Well over 1,000 people have now signed our petition calling for these to be introduced immediately and the Government and train operators would do well to listen to them. With our research showing just how much the Government will profit from already hard stretched passengers even more pressure will be put on them to act quickly to give people what they want: an affordable and reliable railway for everyone. Happy New Year!