Stuart Baldock 11.28am
The average the cost of a rail journey has increased by 5.9 per cent. The price of some tickets has increased by as much as 11 per cent.
The Government allows train companies to raise ticket prices by Retail Price Index (RPI) +1% but it could have been more drastic still.
In the autumn statement, the Chancellor, George Osborne, scrapped plans to increase fares by RPI +3 per cent. Had this decision not been taken, ticket prices could have increased by an average of 8 per cent.
The ‘relief’ may only be short lived - unbeknown to many passengers, rail companies also have the opportunity to increase ‘non-regulated’ fares, e.g. off-peak tickets, in both May and September. Additionally, in January 2013 and January 2014, it is anticipated that the Government will revert to the RPI +3 per cent formula to calculate fare increases.
Passengers are entitled to feel aggrieved. Travelling at peak time is often an unpleasant experience. Even if the service they plan to join is not too overcrowded to board – there is unlikely to be the ‘luxury’ of a seat.
It is not hyperbole when rail passenger advocacy groups note that for many commuters such increases are unaffordable - particularly at a time of stagnating wages. Research by the Hay Group has highlighted that for many workers the cost of commuting by rail already accounts for around one-fifth of yearly earnings.
The rationale for increasing fares is a simple one. Taxpayers who do not use the rail network should not have to shoulder the burden of financing the much needed investment in the UK’s rail infrastructure. But everyone can benefit from a good rail network.
Every commuter on a train is one less person driving a car on the UK’s already heavily congested roads. A recent report by Churchill Car Insurance calculated the per annum cost to the UK economy of lost working hours due to traffic congestion at £752 million. Why allow unsustainable increases in rail fares and possibly make this worse?
Additionally, there are environmental benefits that rail travel has over other means of transportation – particularly cars. For example, if we take an average journey in the UK to be approximately 10 miles or around 600 miles per month, one person commuting by car will emit 3.96 tons of CO2 per annum. The same journey undertaken by train would emit only 1.62 tons of CO2 per annum.
It is time we started viewing our trains very much like we view education, health, or defence. The railway is a public service that all taxpayers can benefit from. Passengers directly contribute £6.5 billion to the running of the railways. Taxpayers contribute £4 billion. There should be a rebalancing.
Research by the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT), has found that in some instances rail passengers in the UK pay up to ten times more for their tickets than on the continent. The CBT compared the cost of travel between Woking, Surrey and London Waterloo with similar commutes on the continent.
- A season ticket between Woking and Waterloo costs £3,268 per year.
- Between Ballancourt-sur-Essone and Paris the cost of a season ticket is £924.
- Between Strausberg and Berlin the cost of a season ticket is £705.
- Between Collado-Villalba and Madrid the cost of a season ticket is £653.
- Velletri and Rome, the cost of a season ticket is £336.
In response to the CBT’s research, the Association of Train Operating Companies notes accurately:
“In many other countries, the state chooses to subsidies the railways more heavily than in Britain.”
If we want to stimulate the UK economy and help lower paid workers we need to increase state rail subsidies.
If ticket prices increase along the current trajectory then we risk reducing our workforce mobility; particularly for the lowest paid.
Rail fares as a proportion of salary for a Senior Manager, based on a 17-30 minute commute, are between 1-2 per cent; for a Production Operative it is 8-11 per cent. Based on a 50 minute commute the figures are an even more disparate 2-3 per cent and 16-20 per cent respectively.
When the economic situation improves, the cost of commuting to jobs should not be an impediment to taking work.