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March 2021 Rail Fares Increase

Volume 688: debated on Thursday 28 January 2021

What assessment he has made of the potential effect on passenger numbers of increasing rail fares by 2.6 per cent in March 2021. (911502)

What assessment he has made of the potential effect on passenger numbers of increasing rail fares by 2.6 per cent in March 2021. (911513)

This is the lowest fare rise in four years. Passengers are advised to reduce journeys as much as possible, and, as such, usage has fallen dramatically during the lockdowns. Passenger behaviours in the future are unbelievably uncertain, but a small fare rise will help to ensure that taxpayers are not unfairly overburdened for keeping vital rail services running.

Because millions of commuters are now working from home, the RMT union has produced research on flexible rail ticketing that shows that if the cost of full-time season tickets was pro-rated to two, three or four days a week, these tickets would offer better value for money and encourage passengers back to our railways when it is safe to do so. Will the Minister update us on the Department’s plans with industry on flexible ticketing and when these tickets might be introduced?

I thank the hon. Lady for her very wise question. I welcome the work done by the RMT in this area, and a whole host of others. We are working with industry on what we can do with flexible ticketing going forward. We are wary that sending mixed messages at this time in trying to encourage people to buy tickets for future travel might not be the right thing to do, but I promise her that we are working closely with industry and expect to make announcements when we can.

Train commuters using the Greater Anglia service from Edmonton Green to London Liverpool Street are set to pay £1,436 from March 2021—£436 more than in 2010. Labour has long argued that public ownership of the rail network would provide better value for taxpayers and for passengers. Does the Minister agree that the Government must stop bolstering profit for private companies and bring the network in-house?

No. I am absolutely sure that public ownership of the railways, if we nationalised rail, would mean that the increases the hon. Lady outlined would be way more.

In the midst of a pandemic and facing a deep recession, when people are losing their jobs and seeing wages slashed, this Tory Government are pushing through inflation-busting rail fare increases this March. After a period of record low passenger numbers, we need to encourage people back on to trains to help our economy and our environment, so it makes absolutely no sense to increase ticket prices. Can the Minister explain why his Government continue to pay risk-free guaranteed profits to private train companies? Is it fair that rail passengers across our country will be picking up the tab and paying more—much more—to get to work or see their loved ones?

I always try not to be overtly political in these matters, but under the last Labour Government, in the run-up to 2010, we had rises of 4%, 3.9%, 4.3%, 4.8%, and 6%. We have temporarily frozen fares in January and February so that people can look at what their travel plans might be as lockdown plans are announced. We have introduced all sorts of railcards and a whole host of discounts, and regulated fares will be increasing at the lowest actual rate in four years. But yes, the hon. Gentleman is quite right: we do need eventually to encourage people back on to our railways. If we are going to decarbonise, and if we are going to level up, we want to take people off the roads and entice them back to the railways, and we will have products to do that—but now, I am afraid, we also need to remember that the taxpayer stood by the railways with £10.1 billion in the course of this time, and they do need some money back.