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Train Fares

Volume 670: debated on Thursday 30 January 2020

12. What steps his Department is taking to reform the regulation of fares to encourage more people to travel by train. (900512)

The Government have frozen regulated rail fares in line with inflation for the seventh year in a row. In addition, we have already cut costs for thousands of young people with the 16-to-17 saver railcard and announced a new railcard for veterans, which is to be launched later this year. All those measures help encourage people to travel more by train.

It has been two and a half years since the Gibb review of the main line between London and Brighton, which stated that there are three rail fare structures for one line. It is really simple: get rid of two of them and stick to the Thameslink fare, which is the cheapest. The Minister does not need another review, because there have been many already. Can he just get to his feet and give a commitment that that is exactly what he will do?

May I take this opportunity to wish the entire House a belated happy rail nationalisation day for yesterday?

Earlier this month, UK rail passengers were hit with yet another above-inflation fare rise. Fares are now up by 40% since 2010, having risen at twice the rate of wages. In contrast, fares in Germany were cut by 10% at the start of this year to encourage more people to travel by train in order to cut emissions. Of course, Labour pledged to reduce fares by 33%. Should the British Government not follow the example of our European friends and consider a fare cut to boost rail travel, rather than imposing yet another fare hike?

The Government cap around 45% of all rail fares, including most season tickets, to protect passengers who rely on the railway from high fares. Of every £1 spent on fares, 98p goes back into our railways. That is an investment in the railways; they are actually not bad value for money.

That is a curious interpretation of the experience of British rail passengers. The Transport Secretary will know that fuel duty has been frozen since 2010 at the cost of more than £50 billion, and he will be aware that air passenger duty has been broadly frozen over a similar period, with the cut likely to come in the Budget. He may also appreciate that rail and bus fares have increased by more than a third in a decade. Does the Minister agree that tax breaks for cars and aviation over public transport is the right approach to meet the climate crisis challenge?

We have a very ambitious transport decarbonisation plan and we want to do better, as the Minister for the future of transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), has outlined already—so yes, we do think we have the right approach to decarbonise transport by 2050.

Many of my constituents in Hinckley and Bosworth are often confused and frustrated by the rail ticketing system, and no doubt many people in the rest of the country are too. I wonder if the Minister would agree that simplifying rail tickets by moving away from splitting fares, or super off-peak and off-peak tickets, may well make things better and make people more likely to consider travelling by rail?

I thank my hon. Friend, who is a near neighbour of mine, for his excellent question. We are currently trialling a new, simpler fares structure with London North Eastern Railway, and will use the findings to inform the development of wider plans to improve fares. This will be a big part of the Williams review White Paper that will be published shortly.

One aspect of fare regulation that I invite the Minister to consider is compensation arrangements for cancellations and delays, particularly on commuter services, where the sums involved for the individual journey are small, but the cumulative effect of poor services is significant for those passengers. Will the Minister suggest some ways in which commuters can not only hope to see their trains arrive on time, but easily claim compensation when they do not?

The obvious way to get around this problem is to ensure that trains actually arrive on time. That is the ultimate aim of all that we do in this area at the Department for Transport. We have rolled out the Delay Repay scheme across the vast majority of the network, and it is working. However, we are going to spend £48 billion over the course of the next five years to try to ensure that we have the infrastructure in place to make the trains run on time. That has to be the ultimate goal.