Monday, 11 January 2016

We need to be on a different track

Since 2010, rail fares have rocketed by 25 per cent – three times faster than wages.

Strangely, George Osborne never explains that he is forcing a 40% rise in the cost of some season tickets so that he can cut taxes for millionaires. Commuters have consistently been told that higher fares would fund investment, but vital projects have been delayed for years and passengers are paying ever more to travel on increasingly overcrowded and unreliable trains.

Out of touch Conservative Ministers talk about ‘fair fares for comfortable commuting’ and insist that most rail fares are ‘quite cheap,’ while commuters pay ever higher prices to travel on unreliable and overcrowded trains.  They’ve clearly never travelled on trains in South Yorkshire.

Commuters are paying ever more to travel, even though passenger satisfaction ratings and service punctuality have deteriorated since 2010. Essential upgrade and maintenance works have been put on hold. We’ve seen the promised electrification of the Midland Mainline pushed back again. What a surprise that David Cameron could keep repeating his promise to deliver…until just after election day, when the promise, like so many others, was quickly ditched.

While regulated fare rises have officially been capped at the rate of inflation, across the country passengers have been hit by ‘stealth fare rises’ instead – including increases in the cost of evening travel in the North of up to 162%. There are serious doubts over the affordability of the Government’s pledge to cap increases to rail fares over the whole Parliament, and Conservative Ministers have refused to say how the policy will be funded. Will this be the next broken promise to passengers?

Under the fragmented structures created by the Conservatives, 3% of the cost of tickets are taken as train companies profit, and our network is up to 40% less efficient than the best performing European railway systems.

There is an alternative plan for rail that would extend public ownership to rail services, put passengers first and address the rising cost of commuter travel. The sooner we move in that direction the better.