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Transport User Voice – September 2019 – Rail fare rises underscore the need for reform

02 September 2019

Value for money still a key challenge for the industry

At the point most people were enjoying the summer the railway announced the level by which regulated fares will increase next January – a figure dictated under franchise agreements by July’s inflation rate (announced on 14 August). Transport Focus spoke up, as always, for passengers, pointing out that no consumer likes prices to go up – least of all when they don’t feel what’s on offer is value for money and won’t necessarily get anything by way of a better service in return.

While punctuality has improved in some areas, the ‘hot weather’ problems and the ‘power outage’ in July highlighted just how fragile and unreliable services can be at times. The National Rail Passenger Survey (NRPS) shows that less than one-third of commuters, and not quite half of all passengers nationally, currently feel their rail tickets offer value for money. Many passengers will be mystified why fares are to rise again and few will find it easy to accept paying more when they feel they are getting less.

This reality is not helped by the way fare increases are calculated. The official measure of inflation is the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) but rail fares are still based on the Retail Prices Index (RPI), despite the Office of National Statistics itself viewing RPI as a flawed measure of inflation with serious shortcomings.

What does this mean for passengers? July’s CPI figure was 2.1% while RPI is 2.8% so this difference means that passengers will pay significantly more than they would if CPI were used as the basis for rail fare increases. If your salary is linked to CPI then this means your ticket price is going to rise at a higher rate than your pay –  a situation that has also been the case for many years now. Transport Focus believes it is high time for fares to be based on CPI, the official measure of inflation.

Fare rises also underscore the need to reform of the fares structure. The ‘Easier Fares for All’ consultation held in 2018 demonstrated a real desire among passengers for root-and-branch reform to maximise benefits and boost value for money. Things like single-leg pricing will make the system easier to understand and the introduction of new fares that match the way people want to travel today, such as season tickets for part time workers, cannot arrive too soon. The rail industry needs to demonstrate a practical commitment to fares reform by starting trials to test new fares.

The arrival this month of a new 16-17 Railcard offers better news for some. Transport Focus knows through its research that younger passengers resent being charged adult fares when they turn 16 while having to stay in school/education up to their 18th birthday. The new railcard offers a welcome 50 per cent discount that unlike other railcards applies to season tickets and on travel in peak periods – so it will help to take some of the edge off commuting to school and college. Nevertheless, Transport Focus wants to see this card extended to cover the entire ‘6th form’ period so that students turning 17 early in their second year of study don’t find themselves having to pay full adult fares for the rest of their course.

Finally, if you’re delayed (or have a season ticket and heed advice issued by rail operators ‘not to travel’ in periods of severe disruption) make sure you claim all the compensation you are entitled to. Doing this can feel like a chore, but for eligible passengers the amounts one can claim really do add up over time, and every claims sends a clear message to train operators to improve the punctuality and reliability of their services. For relevant information and quick links to your train operator claims process visit the Make Delay Pay campaign web pages. Support the campaign and #MakeDelayPay !

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