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Rail fare rise cancelled, or just delayed?

Paul Tuohy's picture

Usually at this time of year we find out how much more we’ll be paying for our rail tickets next year as the annual rail fare rise is confirmed. This year though the Government has deferred a decision on the 2022 rise until later in the year.

A spokesman for the Department for Transport said: “No decision has been made on national rail fares. The Government is considering a variety of options and we will announce our decision in due course.”

If this were a normal year then we’d be looking at a fare rise of 3.8 per cent next year because that is the RPI figure announced today which is linked to the annual increase. That’s pretty high, in fact it’s the highest July RPI figure since 2012, but it could be even worse for commuters. There’s speculation that the Government could be raising fares by RPI+1% next year, meaning things like season tickets and standard returns will rise by a whopping 4.8 per cent in January. On the other hand, there’s also speculation that the RPI linked rise could be dropped altogether and the much talked about switch to a Consumer Price Index (CPI) linked annual rise could be on the cards.

Of course, what we really want for 2022 is neither RPI or CPI, but a fare freeze with fares capped at their current level and any decision on future increases, or decreases, and how they are calculated taken as part of the long-promised fares and ticketing reform. Basically we want to see rail passengers given the same break as drivers have had with the fuel duty freeze, which has seen fuel duty frozen for ten years. We’re urging the Government to freeze fares for next year to help increase passenger numbers and boost the economy, as well as reducing carbon emissions, air pollution and congestion. This makes perfect sense given the need to encourage people back to work by train to help stimulate the economy post-pandemic. You’ll find it pretty hard to find anyone who thinks that raising rail fares will encourage passengers back to the railways, except maybe the Treasury.

The other main reason to freeze fares is to help reduce carbon emissions from transport and tackle climate change. Transport is responsible for more than a quarter of all UK carbon emissions, with cars responsible for just over half. Public transport accounts for only five per cent and a shift from cars to public transport will be key to cutting emissions, but until we make the greenest forms of transport the cheapest, people will continue to use their cars.

Add to this the billions lost to congestion every year and the financial and human cost of air pollution, and it makes perfect economic sense to freeze fares and make rail travel cheaper.

Capping rail fares at their current level should just be the first step in a rail recovery plan though, with the Government needing to go a whole lot further to encourage people out of their cars and onto public transport at the rate we need to tackle climate change. Ultimately, we want to the long-promised fares reform expediated, investment to ensure all communities have access to the rail network and a shift in the balance of transport funding away from roads and driving and towards public transport.

In the face of a growing climate emergency the Government should be doing everything it can to encourage people to choose low-carbon public transport by making it the cheapest option, not hiking rail fares. If the Government can freeze fuel duty for ten years, it can freeze rail fares next year to help encourage more people to use the trains and get commuters back spending in our towns and cities.

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