Rail fares 2016 – passengers want a more reliable railway
04 December 2015
The annual festive ritual of the rail fare rise announcement is upon us. Not as painful as in previous years but passengers will want to see much better reliability in return for these fares.
After years of above inflation fare rises this Government has listened and kept ‘regulated’ fare (many season tickets and off-peak return fares) increases to the rate of inflation – so 1 per cent this year. The shift in funding from taxpayer to passenger has been temporarily halted – now passengers pay almost two thirds of the day-to-day running costs of the railway, whereas ten years ago taxpayers bore that burden. That shift is a political decision but we argued long and hard that passengers had now taken on more than their fair share so this is welcome news.
Also, after years of pressure from us, the flexibility that train companies had to spread the regulated fare rises among various routes has also been, somewhat surprisingly, totally stopped. In years past this had led to much steeper and not very explicable rises on some routes. Now the rises are spread more thinly among more passengers.
‘Unregulated’ fares, which the train companies are free to set themselves, have risen, on average, by only a little more than this. No one pays an average fare so we will be poring over the detail to see what has really changed.
We tend to look at value for money ratings from passengers. We know from previous research that value for money scores of the railway are relatively low among commuters in London and the South East in particular. The price of the ticket is only part of this story. A free pass is low value for money if your train is cancelled!
Passengers also judge value for money on the basic delivery of the service – on time, few cancellations, frequent and some chance of getting a seat.
Performance remains too patchy for value for money scores to really shift. This autumn’s National Rail Passenger Survey will be published on 27 January 2016 – it will be interesting to see how passengers rate their services. So, 2016 will hopefully be the year when passengers finally see trains become reliable, disruption handled better and engineering and investment programmes done more sensitively – those will be some of the main themes we will be working at on behalf of passengers.