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Rail Passenger Fares

Volume 570: debated on Thursday 7 November 2013

The “Rail Fares and Ticketing: Next Steps” report was published on 9 October following a wide-ranging review and public consultation. It contains a number of measures to give passengers a better, more modern, and more flexible deal on fares and to improve the current ticketing system.

Swindon commuters who have no choice but to travel at peak times face increasing fares and want value for money. What plans does my hon. Friend have to increase flexibility and reduce costs for rail fare payers and season ticket holders?

My hon. Friend is right. The train operating companies set the prices for season tickets and for fares. I recognise that Swindon is a popular commuting town that benefits from the frequent services on high-speed trains to London, Wales and the west country. Nevertheless, he is right and he will have noticed the announcement from the Government restricting “flex”, which means that none of his commuters will face a fare increase of more than 3% above inflation from January 2014.

15. In the autumn, East Coast achieved the highest passenger satisfaction rates since records began, so why are the Government wasting taxpayers’ time and money privatising that successful service rather than getting to grips with the cost of living crisis and this Government’s inflation-busting rail fare price rises? (900958)

The hon. Lady will obviously have read the Brown report, which suggests that franchising is the best way to secure better deals and more investment for passengers. That is why we are continuing to franchise and are putting the east coast main line out to franchise.

I remind my hon. Friend that commuters who are reliant on coming into London to work do not have any flexibility in their work times. What ideas does he have to get a better deal for commuters, who are a captive market and who have regulated fares?

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for the excellent work that he did in contributing to the rail fares review. He will know that we have restricted fares to the retail prices index plus 1%, which “flex” has also reduced, so no one will pay more than 3% above RPI. He will also remember that the document suggests considering ways to provide season ticket holders with more flexible arrangements.

The Government’s fare review took 18 months and has delivered fare rises of up to 6%. That 6% is twice the rate of inflation and is cold comfort for commuters struggling as their incomes fall in real terms. Is that really the best the Minister can do for commuters struggling with the Government’s cost of living crisis?

The hon. Lady will know that the formula for regulated fares is RPI plus 1%. Unlike her Government, we have reduced flexibility to 2%. We have made that permanent, something that the Government of the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), who is shouting from the opposite Bench, did not do. She may just wish to remember this, which was in the franchise arrangement from 1 January 2011:

“the amendment to the Franchise Agreement set out in this notice of amendment shall be reversed.”

They did not scrap it; they put it in place for one year only.

The Department for Transport announced in September that it would cap standard return fares at £500. Given that no one will benefit from that £500 fare cap, is that not just another example of the Minister’s smoke and mirrors on fares?

A number of things were announced in that review. The fare cap was a voluntary initiative put in place by the rail industry. We have not assessed, and nor has anyone else, how many passengers will benefit from that. We have also announced a reduction in the fares “basket flex”, a trial of single-leg pricing for off-peak returns, a trial of flexible ticketing, including discounted fares in quieter periods, and a new code of practice on ticketing information.

14. Can my hon. Friend assure me that everything is being done to reduce the cost of running the railways and the inefficiencies that the previous Government left behind so that we can move towards an era of no above-inflation rises? (900957)

I am delighted to confirm to my hon. Friend that the package of measures that we have worked up will continue to bear down on the cost of running the railways. We recognise the cost of living and the implications of fare increases. That is why the Government are doing something to help commuters and anyone travelling on the railways. It is noticeable that Passenger Focus recommended the recent package that the Government put forward.