23 November 2011: At our busy briefing for MPs in the House of Commons on Monday, we made the case that the Government’s decision to raise fares was a political choice, not a necessity.
We presented our new report that challenges the need for fare rises, questions whether the Government will raise as much money as it expects to through the policy and argues that the economic, environmental and social risks of fare rises outweigh the benefits. It also reveals that vital information about how public money is raised and spent on the railways is being withheld from public access, making claims about the need for fare rises even harder to accept at face value.
After presentations from Louise Ellman, Chair of the Transport Select Committee, MPs Maria Eagle and Julian Huppert, Anthony Smith of Passenger Focus and Christian Wolmar, the audience of MPs, business representatives, consultants and others joined in with the lively discussion. Some really important points were made:
• It is dishonest to use the mechanism of regulated fares to generate Government income. Fares regulation is intended to protect passengers who have few alternatives to using the train, and to ensure that people can make longer distance journeys at an affordable price. Instead, it has now been turned on its head and is being used to raise money for the Government.
• Despite the significant growth of rail use recently, we are reaching new price thresholds that will result in people being priced off the railways.
• This matters to the UK economy, in particular our competitiveness against other countries. The Treasury has admitted as much, and business groups are worried that such high fares could put off companies from coming to invest in the UK.
• The aim of reducing the Government contribution to running the railways to zero, and requiring fare-payers to cover all the costs – as hinted by new Transport Secretary Justine Greening recently – is a dangerous one that must be guarded against.
Last week, the Government announced that its new rail strategy – as well as the launch of the fares review – would be delayed until the new year. This means that it is pressing ahead with eye-watering fare hikes in the absence of an overall strategy for how the railways should develop, and who should pay for them. The good news is, the Government has also committed to carry out a full public consultation as part of the fares review, which we have been pushing hard for. At the briefing, we asked MPs to speak out if they are concerned about fare rises, and make sure their constituents’ views are properly heard – and taken on board – in the fares review.