Fair rail fares – have your say!

There is two more weeks to reply to the DfT’s consultation on Rail Fares. Please do so, via this link so that there is a chance (however faint) that rail fares could start going down rather than rocketing. As they have done for twenty years and more.

Dear Department for Transport,

My name is Caroline Page, and I am the County Councillor for Woodbridge in Suffolk – which is in  a beautiful rural location. We are lucky in Woodbridge to have one of the few rural stations left in Suffolk after Beeching’s cuts.

Rural public transport is very important for those people who can’t, can’t afford to, or are prevented from driving by age, ill health or ethical considerations.  Like many others in rural Suffolk,  I use the train a lot: I regularly  visit elderly parents in Cambridge, a student daughter in Sheffield, and go to London for specialist appointments and so on. I also use the train for work, and social activities.

If you don’t have a car, rail fares are very important – as is the need to travel on a train at a moment’s notice. We are lucky that we have ‘walk-on’ discounted fares within our  portion of East Anglia, but the moment that we step outside, ticket pricing becomes unaffordable. In the past I have needed to get to places such as Liverpool, Sheffield, Portsmouth and Coventry for crises and bereavements at  a moment’s notice  and the cost of such rail travel has been outrageous and (frankly) extortionate and added greatly to the stress of the situation.  I once had to make a trip to Liverpool because of a bereavement, and same day rail travel actually cost practically the same amount as asking a taxi to drive me there. Can this be reasonable??

I am asking you to remember, and consider that  people who need to make immediate, on-the-day, rail trips are often  poorer or less able than others – who have the option of driving. What can be the rationale for discouraging off-peak travel by charging such appallingly greedy and inappropriate ‘walk-on’ fares when trains are so empty for so much of the day ?

Additionally many people would like to travel at weekends,  and on bank holidays to visit family or tourist destinations. The train would seem ideal. Oddly enough however, customer demand is not seen as a reason for the train companies to encourage us onto trains by good service and special fares. Instead it is seen as an excuse to charge us a high price for the shoddiest service I have ever experienced in a life of train-travel. I was talking to some railworkers, as we stood nose-to-nose on a late, diverted train to Cambridge over a recent bank-holiday, and they said they found it a very hard and unsatisfying  element in their job to be working to the demands of share-holders rather than travellers (or customers as we are so uncharmingly called) and providing such a service at such a steep price.

The rail fares review could be the biggest shake-up of our fares system for decades. At a time of belt-tightening, and peak oil, the country needs to have a reliable affordable rail service to encourage and support non-driving.

We  therefore  need to make sure that this review – an opportunity for cheaper, simpler, fairer fares –  is not wasted. UK rail fares must start going down not up. The cost of train tickets in the UK is already eye watering – far higher  than in other parts of Europe. Last summer I travelled in very pricy Norway, and was astonished to find that while a pint of beer was several times more expensive than in the UK, train travel was much cheaper (as well as better integrated and more frequent). Yet Norway is even more rural than the UK.

Government fare hikes mean prices for most tickets in 2015 will be 24% more expensive than they were in 2011. This is unreasonable and inappropriate : rail should be a public service not a ‘rich man’s toy’. Most particularly it should not pander to the requirements of people travelling ‘on expenses’ at the expense of those needing transport for the most basic reasons.  Trains are a vital link between people and the places they go to work, study, relax and spend their money. Both people who already use the train and people who are occasional users should have a stake in having a fit-for-purpose, affordable railway. If we actually ensured it was, we would have much better usage in ‘non-peak’ situations and help support the largely overlooked rural travellers (such as my constituents), as well as those in city termini.


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