Rail fares are continuing to outstrip inflation and wages, even in times of recession. Our research has shown that from January 2008, rail fares have increased over 26%, three times faster than average wages.
Now they’re set to rise again, with a 3.9% increase in January, the tenth straight year of inflation-busting rail fare rises. This, being an average figure, masks the more eye watering hikes you’ll see on some fares, including up to 6.5% on some season tickets.
In the New Year, commuters on many lines in the South East will be facing season tickets touching £5k. But it is not just isolated to the commuter belt around London. A season ticket from Ludlow to Hereford will be just shy of £2k, a jump of over 5%.
That’s why Action for Rail activists have been out and about at stations around the country this morning, joining passengers to let MPs, the government and the train operators know that passengers can’t take any more.
Rail operators are keen to point out that fare increases largely go towards paying the increasing cost of running the rail. The Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) claim just 3p in every £1 of fare revenue goes to train operator profit.
But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Much of the cost escalation in the industry driving fare rises is a result of the dysfunctional and fragmented system that privatisation brought about. Research by Transport for Quality of Life shows that £1.2bn a year is wasted on the various costs associated with privatisation, from rail company profits and dividend payments, to all the transaction costs, legal fees, duplication and waste that comes with it.
They calculate that eliminating this waste and investing that £1.2bn back into the industry could result in an 18% fare cut across the board.
The government acknowledges that costs need to come down in the industry. What is their solution? Let train operators have more freedom to cut services, close ticket offices, remove staff from trains and stations and have more say over how they can cut costs in critical safety work like maintenance and track renewal.
This blank cheque to the private train companies shows where the government’s priorities lie. Their craven approach to the train operators is shown by their refusal to consider alternatives to franchising despite the clear failings of the model. And why they were so keen to hand a very agreeable contract to Virgin to run West Coast for another two years.
These are critical times for rail. The government are vulnerable to the demands of angry rail passengers in marginal seats around the country. There are franchises up for renewal. For the first time in years there is genuine debate in media and political circles about the case for public ownership. We need to ensure that we use this period to effect some real change.
For more information on our campaign visit actionforrail.org