Today it was confirmed that fares are increasing by four times the rate of average salaries.
Fares have increased by over 20 per cent during this parliament, potentially rising to 25 per cent when we find out the announcement today whilst wages have increased by just 6.9 per cent over the same amount of time. Déjà vu? You bet! This is a depressingly familiar announcement as for the last 11 out of 12 years, successive Governments have increased fares far faster than the rate of inflation and rail users really are struggling to keep up with the huge increases in the cost of their rail travel.
To mark today’s fares announcement, we have launched a Fares and Salary Calculator for people to discover how much their train fares have increased compared to their wages over the last decade. We want passengers and rail users to send a clear message to the Government, that enough really is enough. With less than 9 months to the General Election in 2015 the Chancellor George Osborne must listen to commuters, many of whom live in marginal constituencies, as this really could play out at the ballot box next year.
A rich man’s toy
Whilst our railways may often seem like they have become a rich man’s toy, it’s important to remember than not all rail users are wealthy individuals. Many people have no alternative to using the train to access their place of education, training or work and we regularly hear heart-breaking stories of people making the agonising choice on whether to up-sticks and move house or leave their jobs completely. Surely with the cost of living rising across the board something now has to give, and for many rail users they have nothing left to give.
The percentage of railway operating costs met by passengers is continuing its long terms rise, and is predicted to reach 79 per cent by 2018-19. Average wages have remained stubbornly stagnant for the last four years but worryingly, last week the Office for National Statistics published its latest labour market statistics that showed that wages are now falling for the first time in five years. In the last three months to June regular wages fell from 0.6 per cent increase to 0.4 per cent. With many season tickets now going through the £5000 per year threshold, any further fare increases could push rail users to financial breaking point. Many people are now faced with the reality of having to pay a quarter of their salaries on train fares just to get to work.
We need part-time tickets now
Fare increases also have a huge impact on those who work part time or flexibly, the majority of whom are women. Almost 75 per cent of part time workers are female and cannot benefit from the ‘savings’ from monthly or annual season tickets meaning they are being hit by a double whammy of costs. The Government pledged to introduce flexible ticketing in early 2015 and whilst there are some positive noises coming from the Department for Transport (DfT), we are still waiting for confirmation that this will actually happen. Both the DfT and the railway industry must work much more closely to ensure that this does happen, and soon.
Steps the Government must take
The Government can take some quick steps to help people facing high train fares. The first thing they could do is to change the fares formula and finally bring it into the 21st Century. Currently fare increases are worked out using an outdated and unrecognised measure of inflation called the Retail Price Index (RPI). By switching to the more widely recognised Consumer Price Index (CPI) rail users would make significant savings, for only a limited cost to Government spending. RPI usually shows a higher rate of inflation than CPI, and between 1996 and 2011, the cumulative inflation rate shown by RPI was 53.6 per cent while that for CPI was 35.6 per cent.
Our Fair Fares Now charter sets out other steps that the Government and rail industry needs to take such as ending above inflation fare increases once and for all, introducing flexible tickets for part time workers and ensuring that passengers are always sold the cheapest available fare. We have seen record passenger growth in railways but this should never be taken for granted and currently that’s how it feels for many rail users. We await the Government’s response and hope that they listen to commuters and voters’ concerns at the spiralling cost of rail travel.
Together we have the power to change things!
Please use our fares and salary calculator and then send an email to Chancellor George Osborne saying enough is enough, we need Fair Fares Now! If enough of us voice our anger and concerns at the cost of rail travel, then the Government will be forced to listen to us!