Rail watchdog calls for review of fare rises
The Guardian: July 23, 2007
Dan Milmo, transport correspondent
Commuters must not be made to endure big fare increases to pay for a multibillion pound overhaul of the railway network, the national rail passenger watchdog has warned.
Passenger Focus said the blueprint for the national rail network between 2009 and 2014, due to be published tomorrow, which could cost as much as £29bn, must contain a pledge to review a recent spate of proposed ticket price increases.
The rises of up to 30% were included in a recent round of rail contracts for the East Midlands, West Midlands and Cross Country franchises as the government signalled its determination to make farepayers foot a greater share of the bill. Proposals to lift price caps on saver fares are still under consideration.
The transport secretary, Ruth Kelly, will outline the cost of running the railways tomorrow when she unveils a series of government-funded infrastructure projects, including a £3.5bn overhaul of the route that links Brighton to Bedford via central London and a £500m revamp of Birmingham's New Street station. A £500m project to rebuild Reading station is also expected to get the go-ahead.
Network Rail, which runs the rail infrastructure, has asked for the cash to cope with increased demand which has exacerbated overcrowding and fostered discontent over ticket prices. The latest increases, for franchises that will run until 2015, were for "unregulated fares" which account for six out of 10 ticket sales.
Anthony Smith, chief executive of Passenger Focus, urged Ms Kelly to consider rolling back those agreements, or order a moratorium on similar deals: "The current level of unregulated fare rises should be reviewed within the next two to three years." Last year the government put £6.3bn into the upkeep of the railways while passengers paid £5bn. Average fare increases were 6.8%. The Department for Transport dismissed calls for curbing fare increases, which would entail extending the 1%-above inflation price cap on commuter season tickets.
A spokesman said: "The reality is that 6% of the population travels on railways. So why should people who don't use railways regularly fund the people who do?"