/ Travel & Leisure

Why are we being priced off the railway?

Train tickets and coins

Train fares are up again, this time by record amounts. Some will face an 8% rise on their ticket price, but what will they see in return? With growing demand for rail travel, shouldn’t we be getting more for our money?

The formula for rises in regulated fares (like season tickets and long-distance off-peak tickets) is the previous July’s inflation plus 3% for the next three years.

That inflation figure has just been announced to be 5%. So that means that come January next year we can look forward to an average of 8% rises for those tickets. There surely won’t be many people seeing a pay rise of anything like that amount.

How many of us will be affected?

It’s not as if these are obscure tickets used by a few people. According to the latest Office of Rail Regulation figures, there were 1.4 billion passenger journeys on franchised train companies (the vast majority of train companies are franchised) in 2010-11.

Of that 1.4 billion, 597 million were season ticket journeys. Given that there are lots of other types of tickets included in regulated fares, we must be talking about well over half the journeys made every year.

Even worse, some will go up by much more than 8% – up to 13% is allowed under the rules, so long as other fares go down.

And if you were unlucky enough to have one of the big rises last year (such as commuters from Tonbridge who were hit with nearly 13% extra) there’s nothing to stop that happening again this year – or in future years.

Even worse, there’s no link between the prices scooting up and the service you get – paying more for the same, or even more for less.

Passengers are being priced off the railways

The government wants passengers to pay more – and taxpayers less – towards the huge cost of the railways. But as no one asked for spending on the railways to rocket, this seems unfair.

One of the ways it can cut spending is by pricing people off the railway – which seems to be what’s happening. What happened to making public transport more attractive than going by car? With such high petrol prices, now is the time to be promoting the benefits of rail travel, and yet the opposite is happening.

Demand vs supply

Demand for rail has certainly gone up – there were just over 1 billion journeys in 2003-4 against the 1.4 billion now. But in what other industry is demand seen as a problem?

Of course there is a limit to how many people can be carried by a train system, but a) it’s a limit that can change with advances in technology, planning etc – and b) that’s not our problem as farepayers or taxpayers. Shouldn’t we be encouraged to travel by train rather than priced out altogether?

The government argues that the extra money is needed for investment. But there are parts of the country which have seen very little rail investment for a long time. London is the exception, and the government also seems willing to spend many billions on the high-speed Iine to Birmingham, but is this enough to justify the price rises?

Will the latest rail price rises make you stop travelling by train?

Yes, I'll look for other ways to travel (46%, 169 Votes)

I'll reduce my train journeys when it's practical (35%, 129 Votes)

No, I haven't got any alternatives to train travel (20%, 73 Votes)

Total Voters: 371

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I wouldn’t mind the price rises if I was sure that the money was being reinvested rather than to pay for dividends. It’s not just the Train Operating Companies that take dividends, it’s the train builders and the Rolling Stock Operating Companies. All 3 of which used to be run by BR whilst NOT taking a dividend.

So there is no way for example that the north can reduce overcrowding by just ordering a few more carriages because all trains are no in fixed formation and involve lengthy procurement processes as it is all private. In the days of BR, if you needed some more carriages, you would just order them (agreed it isn’t as simple as that) but it was much easier.

Fare rises just pay for the people up top to cream more profit of us. This is a national scandal that we are subjected to because we have no alternative. Considering the amount of private companies/subcontractors/consultants that the private model supports, we are in a no win situation.

HS2 is the first bit of forward thinking by any government in years. You are wrong to suggest that this would suck investment out of other areas of the railway. I would suggest you have a look at all the improvement projects that are underway at present and are planned. HS2 will be funded in the same way as HS1 and Crossrail, but I guess we can’t afford those either?

These fare rises are NOT designed to pay for HS2, so please stay impartial on this debate.

Is this off the back of the new EU rules that are being rolled out soon? ie train fares can go up by 50%?

As a season ticket holder this news is not welcomed by me. I already pay more than what I believe I should be on the train so an 8% increase would really cheese me off.

You touch on a very interesting point above. The government introduced this so called plan to make public transport more attractive yet on the face of things rail travel can actually be so much more expensive than by car.
Lets look at the facts – if I make a return trip, booked two weeks in advance from my local train station to Leeds it costs £77.20. For that I have to make two changes and be on the train for over 3 and a half hours. Two single tickets would cost £143.

By comparison, the same journey by car would take 2 hours 50 minutes and cost only £60 in petrol for a round trip. Forgetting about the ongoing cost of owning a car, I am saving myself £17.20 here and 40 minutes of my life. I also get the added benefit by car of not being stuck to a particular travel time, being able to carry more luggage and being able to stop for a bite to eat when it suits me.

Why would anyone with a car sacrifice that for a stuffy, noisy train and pay an extra £17.20 for the privilege. Oh, and that’s before the possibly 8% price hike!

If you want more people to use the trains then they have to be subsidised which means more tax – simple ?
Oh and provide free/cheap parking at the stations for passengers.

All Rail company has got one common goal to bring down passenger on road by 2015 !…….They all profiting like oil companies. Every year, we saw rise in fare.Rise in their car parking. It is time to bring back all rail companies as a BRITISH RAIL.
Many passengers are shocked by their massive rise when their pay package is frozen and economic condition is worsening day by day.
One hand Govt says that they would like to encourage more road users to use public transport and leave your car at your home. It is reverse message to the public,use more car and leave the expensive transport system at Govt. door step !……..Govt should invite all budget airlines companies to jump in to rail service sector or collaborate with Indian rail. They are more capable and passenger friendly and with affordable fare,they can make massive profit.

Can anyone really say that they are “shocked” though really?

And can anyone really do anything about it?

The answer to both questions I suspect is “no”. Even consumer groups can only ensure that these rises are “transparent” rather than “abolished”. So that is what we are seeing in the news today, consumer groups “raising awareness” to ensure that no-one is caught short by the rises.

I don’t know which I prefer, being shafted or being told that I am going to be shafted yet I having no choice but to pay. This private monopoly created by the government has to stop. I still have yet to see exactly what the so-called “competition” has helped improve and where there actually is any competition at all.

Let’s take the London commuter routes as an example. You have no choice but to take the train operated by the franchised TOC on that route. Surely competition would actually ensure that one could take a train run by MORE than 1 company on that route, instead people can only take FCC, FGW etc etc depending on where they live. That is not competition.

If there were 2 TOCs for each suburban route and each Intercity route, we would at least have something tangible to compare them to. As it stands we have no competition at all just a rack of incompetent bean counters who take as much money out of the taxpayer as they can.

A scandalous state of affairs really.

I’m not sure you logistically can have proper competition on a route.
There is only 1 physical line.
Someone has to allocate ( by auction?) the slots on the line.
You probably want to subsidise some services or make sure that companies dont just cherry-pick the most profitable “slots”.
Its not like the road system and coach companies with no restriction due to infrastructure – and look how little competition there is for long distance coach/bus services.

Maybe not for profit companies are the answer – but how to encourage efficiency and development ?

Exactly my friend.

It’s sold as competition yet it is anything but competition. I agree it’s impractical to have more than one company running the same service, but what we need is a definition of competition and why it is good for the UK railways.

For example Virgin have had exclusive access to intercity trains on the WCML for years whereas on the ECML, open-access operators have been allowed to give real competition. What happened? that’s right, GNER went to the wall, as did NatEx. Wherever there is real competition on a route, the main operator will go bankrupt.

That is a massive flaw in a “competitive” system

Priced off the railways.
Priced of the road.
Priced into cold dark homes by greedy energy profiteers
Priced into meager rations at the supermarket.
Unemployment increasing.
No money
No confidence.
Successive Governments clearly made up of complete muppets (half of which already proven to have been on the take)
UK life in 2011.
A large proportion of the population suffering through no real fault of their own.
And some wonder why riots have taken place.

Bit grim isn’t it?
Where do we go from here?

Leaving aside the taxpayer contribution to the railways – which should be primarily for capital assets like track, stations and rolling stock – it is an interesting fact that peak-time season-ticket passengers are heavily subsidised by pay-as-you-go passengers and off-peak travellers even though the commuter journeys are the most expensive on the network because of all the capacity running empty in the reverse direction and standing idle outside the peaks. Of course, the closer you get to a major destination the less practical it is for people to use any alternative means of transport to make their journey to work and they are therefore captive to a monopoly. Government should therefore ensure that the economic and physical infrastructure is in place to enable the great cities to function effectively. Given the state of the public finances I suppose we knew that massive extra costs were coming our way [road fuel, train fares, energy, vat, etc] and no increase in wages, pensions, or savings interest to pay for them, plus a massive reduction in public services, but it doesn’t make it any easier to bear to know that “we’re all in this together”.

Of course one can always try to live nearer the job .

Phil says:
18 August 2011

Which is what I did. I shifted to a job 6 miles away rather than 26 and although it’s not as well paid I’ve been quids in ever since. Also a lot less stressed.

Simon says:
18 August 2011

Short sighted I am afraid, when will Government start thinking strategically and long term: our love affair with the car is simply not sustainable. Whilst it is impracticable for us all to live near to where we work (and not necessarily sensible for the economy, where skilled individuals may need to commute to areas of demand), having half empty trains – particularly those heading out of London counter commuter – does not make the best use of the rail network and ensures that we will keep relying on the car until oil runs out. It would be good if we could all be encouraged to use public transport, in order to fill the buses and trains and reduce our utter personal reliance on guzzling petrol. Only by making the railways an attractive option, both in terms of cost and efficiency, will this be achieved. And sadly, the only fair way to do that is through a subsidy for the long-term benefit of all.

Bob Upandown says:
19 August 2011

I don’t get a sense that conservative governments are interested in the long term future of the country, it’s infrastructure and quality of life for us and future citizens.

They always seem to be about PROFIT and NOW.

They only react to things or fiddle unnecessarily with existing systems – like the NHS

They always want to cut spending on things that affect us on a day to day basis.

We have the fourth highest military budget in the world (check it out) some of which could be spent on improving things in the UK.

If the conservatives invested money by turning every school into a Public School then we would create a much better educated population, who would in due course improve the wealth of the country – Public Schools are good enough for the conservatives so why not for all ?

PabloSpain says:
27 August 2011

I have lived and worked in Spain for 10 years. Train travel in the UK must be the most expensive in Europe most other countries not having privatised their railways and give bigger subsidies. I used to commute daily into London (which I gave up and rented a room in London for weekdays and got a life back, as well as lots of cash!), and used trains extensively for work travel. Often when I return to the UK I try to be ‘green’ and go by train, but just the return cost of travelling from a London airport to Bournemouth where my family live pays for my car hire for a week or more. I recently booked in advance a 1st class ticket from Vienna to Cologne on an intercity express.10 hours peaceful travel in cleanliness and extreme comfort, with decent food, excellent beer, 10 minutes delay in 10 hours, business lounge at the station, all for 122€, roughly £110. In Spain, the new AVE links Málaga with Sevilla (a 3.5 hr drive) in about 2.5 hrs for 27€.

I find the British system completely unintelligible, with complex offers, crowded trains of dubious cleanliness, poor information. All a triumph of private ownership. My European friends are underwhelmed, and it is often cited as a reason for maintaining public ownership of key services. A good thing to, as many of these friends are bright young economist and similar, who hopefully will have an impact on Europe in the future.

Despite that, I cannot even see a good business case for a high speed train to Birmingham: the old intercity service was adequate, and I used it frequently… if it ran on time, if there were adequate seats, if it was clean, if there was no breakdown, etc. Get the basics right: get the lines and signalling up to date and working, improve the train sets and design, before building more infrastructure in a crowded part of Britain.

Bob says:
9 April 2012

Had a holiday in a German city last year with such an integrated transport system – I wept compared to what we have !

The 4 car trams which could take 200+ people meant that queues did not exist.

The tram stop LCD screens told the truth in that your tram would arrive in 1, 2, 3 minutes or whatever they said.

One only had to walk a short distance to find a street with a tram route.

Best of all 24 hours travel cost just under 6 euros for 5 people – aimed at a family BUTmeant any group of 5 people travelling together.

Some trams left the street surface and joined national rail lines to become inter city trains !

Surely we dont want all that here, do we ?

Our leaders tell us Europe is terrible – not my experience.