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Regulated Rail Fares

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 27th January 2009.

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Photo of Mark Hunter Mark Hunter Shadow Transport Minister; Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Leader, Shadow Minister (Transport) 2:30 pm, 27th January 2009

What the average percentage change in the price of regulated rail fares has been since 1997.

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Photo of Paul Clark Paul Clark Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

A comprehensive fares index is published by the Office of Rail Regulation in the "National Rail Trends" yearbook, and is available on the ORR website. Until 2008, regulated fares were below accumulated inflation. The average increase in regulated fares on 2 January was 6 per cent.

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Photo of Mark Hunter Mark Hunter Shadow Transport Minister; Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Leader, Shadow Minister (Transport)

I note the Minister's reluctance to put a specific figure on the increase. According to research that we have conducted, since 1997 regulated fares have increased by a staggering 43 per cent.—way above inflation—while unregulated fares have increased by an even higher rate. As we know, just this month the Government allowed an inflation-busting 6 per cent. increase in regulated fares. Does the Minister not think it is about time the Government committed themselves to a freeze in regulated fares to help hard-pressed commuters and other rail travellers?

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Photo of Paul Clark Paul Clark Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

That would obviously bring into question the funding required by train operating companies, thus involving another funding commitment. We must make a decision on the basis of the priorities. The hon. Gentleman referred to an "inflation-busting" increase, but that increase was linked to the RPI in July plus 1 per cent., which is the working cap that we have imposed on operating companies. At the end of the day, we must decide whether to continue to invest in high-speed equipment, new rolling stock and associated requirements to improve reliability, or to give subsidies to private companies.

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Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

While my constituents are concerned about the fare increases that they face, Southeastern Trains has also announced a number of job losses. When I arrive at the station each day to catch my train, the barriers are invariably open. People are worried about money being frittered away as a result of a lack of enforcement in the rail service. I mentioned the problem to Southeastern Trains, but the situation has not improved since I did so. We need to ensure that train operating companies are operating efficiently, and that job losses do not result in a reduction in service.

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Photo of Paul Clark Paul Clark Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

My noble Friend the Minister of State has raised those issues with Southeastern Trains, and will continue to monitor the position. I entirely agree that job reductions should not lead to any loss of reliability, punctuality and safety, which are core concerns for us.

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Photo of Jacqui Lait Jacqui Lait Conservative, Beckenham

Not only are my constituents suffering as a result of increased fares, but Southeastern Trains has reduced the number of carriages on many trains, which has led to serious overcrowding. What discussions has the Minister had with Southeastern about that reduced level of service, and about when my constituents can expect to be able to travel in comfort and safety?

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Photo of Paul Clark Paul Clark Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

As the hon. Lady will know, operating companies—including Southeastern—take account of the need to put rolling stock to the best possible use, and changes in timetables have involved adjustments to achieve that. We continue to monitor the changes introduced recently in the network.

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Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

My hon. Friend is aware not only that our fares are among the highest in Europe, but that public subsidy for the rail industry has tripled or quadrupled in the last 15 years. The costs of track renewals and maintenance have risen by four and five times. Is that not something to do with the catastrophic failure of privatisation, and should we not bring the whole industry back into public ownership?

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Photo of Paul Clark Paul Clark Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I thank my hon. Friend for his suggestion. In a recent Adjournment debate in the House on rail fare increases, it appeared that Opposition Members had forgotten exactly where we were vis-à-vis the number of operating companies that we have, and our requirements in relation to private companies. Substantial investment has gone into the rail system, which is why we have record levels of punctuality and reliability—and why, of course, we have had a 50 per cent. increase in passengers using the rail system, which is good news.

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Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

Does the Minister not understand how angered rail passengers are by an increase in fares that is way above inflation, at a time of deepening recession? He seems to be a little complacent about that. Is not one of the reasons for the increase his Department's policy of extracting premiums from train companies to operate concessions, forcing an unfair ticket tax on passengers? When will he give a fair deal to passengers and remove the unfair ticket tax? How does forcing up rail fares help to tackle climate change?

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Photo of Paul Clark Paul Clark Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

No increase in prices, for whatever reason, is welcomed, and we recognise the clear pressures on train travellers. But, invariably, as some fares have reduced because of the capping system that we have put in place, some have gone up. If we were to introduce a freeze, we would then need to spend more public funds on those rail companies. That would be another subsidy taking money away from rolling stock improvements, increased main line electrification programmes and schemes such as the £8.8 billion west coast main line. We must recognise the requirements, and that there are only two places that the money can come from—the taxpayer or the fare payer. It is question of getting the balance right between the two.

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Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Labour, Chorley

My hon. Friend will agree that a downside of people paying more for their tickets on the Manchester to Blackpool line is that the passengers at Adlington have seen a reduction in service. They were not consulted, although Greater Manchester passenger authority was. People who know the country recognise that Adlington, in my constituency, is in Lancashire. Why have people there not been consulted? Why are we not getting value for the price increases, to ensure there is no reduction in service? Will my hon. Friend personally look into the matter?

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Photo of Paul Clark Paul Clark Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I am always willing to listen to right hon. and hon. Members and to look into matters of concern. Passenger Focus is very much at the heart of giving a stronger voice to passengers.

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Photo of Paul Clark Paul Clark Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport

I have already said yes to the request. Passenger Focus is there to help represent the concerns of passengers across the board.

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