Rail Travel: Affordability

Oral Answers to Questions — Transport – in the House of Commons on 10th January 2019.

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Photo of Mary Creagh Mary Creagh Chair, Environmental Audit Committee

What recent assessment he has made of the affordability of rail travel.

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

The Department is very mindful of the affordability of rail services and we have capped regulated fares in line with inflation for the sixth year in a row. Last week we announced our intention to extend the 16-17 railcard, offering 50% off all rail journeys. Together with the recently launched 26-30 railcard, this means that everybody up to the age of 30 will have access to discounted rail fares.

Photo of Mary Creagh Mary Creagh Chair, Environmental Audit Committee

I thank the Minister for that reply, but 2018 was an abysmal year for rail travel, with tens of thousands of services cancelled in Yorkshire and across the country. Services in Yorkshire are among the least reliable anywhere in the UK and it is having a huge impact on Wakefield city centre. Will the Minister look again at the Transport Committee’s excellent recommendation to enable season ticket holders to have a discount on their season tickets on the worst-performing lines, which at the moment are TransPennine Express and Northern? Both are heavily used by my constituents, who do not have time to claim for every train service that does not turn up on a daily basis.

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

I am acutely aware that passengers across the north—and, indeed, other parts of our network—did see an unacceptable service in 2018. Those Northern passengers most directly affected received targeted compensation worth about 8%—obviously, far more than the increase that we have just seen. Further compensation funds are available. We are agreeing with Transport for the North about how that money should be spent.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Conservative, Bexhill and Battle

I warmly welcome the decision to extend discounted fares for 16 and 17-year-olds. Four of the five secondary schools in my constituency have no sixth form. We require our students to stay in education until they are 18, and they have to travel by train either north to Kent or to the south coast.

I have always been a big believer in giving it 100%. May I encourage Front Benchers to have that as their long-term aspiration, so that we give a 100% discount on rail fares for 16 and 17-year-olds?

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

That would indeed be a very bold aspiration. Obviously, we want to make sure that we have a viable rail service. If we can offer greater value, we certainly will—that is why we have capped rail fares in line with inflation for the sixth year in a row. We are keen to offer value across the rail network wherever we can.

Photo of Derek Thomas Derek Thomas Conservative, St Ives

Ministers will be aware of how long it takes to get right down to Penzance in my constituency.

Photo of Derek Thomas Derek Thomas Conservative, St Ives

Too long. They will also be aware that people very much depend on that form of transport. The truth is that average wages across my constituency are about a third of those in the rest of the country. Will the Minister give consideration to whether there can be some fairness for my constituents so that they pay less for travel, given their dependency on the network and the distances they travel?

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

If it is possible to deliver greater value, we will of course look at those opportunities. Part of the Williams review is about rail fares. I will make sure that my hon. Friend’s comments are fed over to Mr Williams for his consideration.