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Rail Fares

Volume 556: debated on Thursday 17 January 2013

The average increase in regulated fares was 4.2%. An extremely small number of fares will have risen by 9.2%, but those will have been offset by reductions elsewhere. The “5% flex” policy was introduced by the previous Government.

Commuters using Hither Green station in my constituency have seen their annual season ticket rise in the past two years from £856 to £944, yet overcrowding on routes into London remains horrendous. What guarantee can the Secretary of State give my constituents that this time next year overcrowding will be less and that there will not be huge profits going to train operating companies?

One of the problems we face is that there is a huge demand and we have seen huge increases in the number of people using the railways. Matching that, the Government are pulling in huge investment. We have set out our plans for 2014 to 2019, as has Network Rail, which published its plans last week. I understand the concerns of the hon. Lady’s constituents, but I have to say that a lot of work needs to be done on investment.

If I am pressing my right hon. Friend, as indeed I am, to invest more in track capacity on the West Anglia line and to ensure that there is a purchase of new rolling stock soon, do I assist my constituents if at the same time on their behalf I ask him to peg fares, or even reduce them?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I met him this week and he made the case very strongly for extra and faster capacity for his constituents in the feed-in to Liverpool Street. He highlights the exact dilemma: people want extra investment and it has to be paid for. The Government are prepared to subsidise the railways and are doing so, but the passenger also has to pay for extra capacity and new trains.

Many of my constituents, whether they are using local or cross-border services on the west coast main line, are frequently confused by the times at which they can use their tickets. Would it not be a sensible step to print on the tickets the precise time when they can be used, so that we end confusion and people do not end up paying fines?

In some cases, those times are printed on pre-booked tickets. We are conducting a fares review, and I would like to see a much simpler ticket operating system so that people understand the fares they are being charged. The review is due to report in May, and that is one of the points I am looking at.

The franchise agreement imposed by the previous Labour Government has meant that my constituents travelling from North Thanet have faced year-on-year increases way and above the average level. It now costs a huge sum of money to travel to London from Kent. It is an appalling service. Will my right hon. Friend seek to ensure that Railtrack and Southeastern now deliver what my constituents are paying for?

I have met with my hon. Friend to discuss the service in his constituency and in the rest of Kent. He has made a number of points that I will be discussing with Network Rail in due course.

Very straightforward: will the Secretary of State categorically rule out “super peak” fares? A simple answer will do: yes or no.

As I said, the Department is undertaking a review of fares. That is not to look at a way of making fares more expensive, but to ensure that people understand how fares are delivered.