Rail fares Q&A: will cap on price rise make a difference?
Government to cap rail fare rises at 6.1% for January but commuters will still be 'hit hard'
THE GOVERNMENT has announced plans to cap regulated rail fares in England as part of a drive to help with the cost of living – but commuters will still be hit with an above-inflation rises next year. The issue remains a hot potato and the argument about the cost of rail travel is expected to gather pace ahead of the next general election.
What has changed?
Currently, regulated rail fares increase each January by an average of the previous July's Retail Price Index (RPI) measure of inflation, plus one per cent. That means that in 2014 the average rise will be 4.1 per cent, as the RPI in July 2013 was 3.1 per cent. On top of that, rail companies have traditionally been able to add an additional five per cent to the ticket price, with certain caveats. It is this extra increase that government has now capped at two per cent. It means regulated rail fare increases in January – which could have potentially gone up by 9.1 per cent – will be capped at 6.1 per cent. Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin claims this will save some commuters up to £200 a year.
What are the drawbacks?
Regulated fares only account for around 45 per cent of all fares. They are the fares controlled by government and tend to be on commuter routes where those travelling have few practical alternatives to taking a train. They include season tickets, "anytime" single tickets around major cities, and off-peak inter-city return tickets. Richard Westcott, BBC transport correspondent, says in reality the cap will not benefit many people.
What are campaigners saying?
Even the commuters who will "benefit" are facing above-inflation rises, campaigners point out. Manuel Cortes, leader of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) rail union, tells The Guardian that the transport secretary is merely "offering to hold passengers' coats while they keep getting mugged every year by the same set of spivs – the private rail firms". Martin Abrams, from the Campaign for Better Transport, tells the BBC: "Every year for the last 11 years the government has been raising fares above inflation, whilst wages have been absolutely stagnating." As commuters are once again "hit hard," he says, rail fares are likely to become a big issue ahead of the general election in 2015.
Would Labour offer a better deal?
Mary Creagh, Labour's shadow transport secretary, says today's announcement is "too litte, too late". Labour's plans, she says, would have been to stop train companies from increasing fares beyond one per cent above inflation. In The Independent, Andrew Grice says the move highlights the Coalition's efforts to "steal Labour's clothes" before 2015. Meanwhile, Channel 4's political correspondent Michael Crick was one of many tweeters to highlight the fact that the cap has come just weeks after the government attacked Ed Miliband's proposal to freeze gas and electricity prices. "Government unveil more curbs on rail fares," he tweeted. "Is that more of state socialism they warned about when Miliband pledged to freeze energy prices?" ·