The annual rail fare rise has become an unwelcome start to each new year as millions of us return to work after the Christmas break. But this year's average fare rise of 3.1 per cent (3.2 per cent for season tickets) will have left many passengers wondering what on earth they are paying for after a record year for delays, cancellations and overcrowding.
Whilst this rise was expected, many people, including some MPs, felt that the Government could and should have used this opportunity to freeze fares and forgo the annual rise in recognition of the atrocious service experienced by passengers across the network last year.
The problems began back in May, when a new network-wide timetable was introduced, ironically to improve punctuality and provide more services. The disastrous introduction of this new timetable led to the near collapse of whole parts of the network, with thousands of trains cancelled or delayed for weeks on end. People were left unable to get to work, to get to medical appointments or return home as more and more services were disrupted.
January’s fare rise is based on the previous July’s Retail Price Index (RPI) figure, as all annual fare rises are. This, despite RPI being obsolete and no longer an official measure of inflation. Back in 2013 Campaign for Better Transport called for the Government to use the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to set fare increases instead of RPI. Despite having now indicated it will do so, the Government has yet to make the change, leaving passengers paying more this year. Had it brought the change in this year, regulated fares - things like season tickets and standard returns - would have risen by 2.5 per cent today, instead of 3.2 per cent.
We called for a January fares freeze back in the summer in recognition of the events of the previous months and as a way to start to rebuild trust in the railways. By pressing ahead with today’s rise the Government has shown a total disregard for passengers.
This rise is yet more evidence of why the review of the railways currently underway must prioritise passengers’ needs and recommend a fundamental reform of the fares system and how fares are set. It’s about time the Government recognised the most important part of the railway is its passengers.