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Rail fare rise is far from fair

Paul Tuohy's picture
Photo: passengers alighting from train

Today we learnt that rail fares will rise by 3.8 per cent in March. This is bad news not just for travellers – some commuters will be asked to stump up hundreds of pounds more for their season tickets – but also for the environment. Because the danger is that many people will choose to drive rather than paying even more for a train ticket.

"The rail fares are already expensive for two people and if they go up we may choose to drive."
Lynette, Cumbria

Driving (in a medium petrol car with one occupant) produces more than four times as much greenhouse gas per passenger mile as travelling by rail. Considering the urgent need to act on climate change, the Government should be making rail the affordable choice. Instead, it is increasing fares by the highest percentage for eight years.

The rise applies to season tickets, and also some off-peak return and Anytime tickets, so it will affect leisure travellers as well as commuters, hindering the economic recovery.

"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

True, the increase is capped in line with inflation. But this is cold comfort, for two reasons.

Firstly, the Government has used the RPI measure of inflation, rather than the lower CPI measure which is used for most things. Had it used CPI, fares would 'only' be going up by 2 per cent.

Secondly, and crucially, fuel duty for car drivers has been frozen for more than 11 years. It has not gone up by RPI. It has not gone up by CPI. It has been fixed at the same number of pence per litre since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 was in cinemas and X Factor winner Matt Cardle was at Christmas Number 1.

After the fare rise, the average full-time worker commuting from Brighton into London will have to work for seven weeks just to pay for their annual season ticket. A commuter from York into Leeds will have to work for five weeks, while a commuter from Burton on Trent into Birmingham will have to work for six weeks. Many commuters will feel they can't afford this and stick to working from home, which has become so much more usual during the pandemic. The fare rise will not be the money-spinner that the Government hopes.

"If rail fares continue to increase, it will be inevitable that I will be priced out of being able to commute to work."
Tony, Dorset

Transport is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than any other sector. Electric cars alone will not shrink transport's carbon footprint anywhere near quickly enough. Neither will they cut road traffic, congestion or the other problems of car-dominance. More people need to be encouraged and enabled to shift their journeys onto green modes such as rail, which is why we have been calling for a freeze on rail fares to match the freeze on fuel duty. Today's announcement is a step in the wrong direction.

"We would like to go to London and Edinburgh by train to do touristy stuff and catch up with friends, but only if it's cheaper to travel by train than to drive."
Dave, Northallerton

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