by M Javed
Rail fares in England are due to go up by almost 6%, according to an announcement by the Department of Transport.
The hike, which will affect ‘regulated’ tickets such as those for off-peak and seasonal travel, is being sold by the government as ‘the biggest government intervention ever to keep rail fares down’ as prices will increase by ‘only’ 5.9%, with the Tories stressing that this is to be celebrated as it is an increase of 6.4% less than July 2022’s RPI of 12.3%, meaning passengers will not be penalised at the sum rate of inflation.
A more accurate description of the change is that – in the context of a cost-of-living crisis that has seen historic rates of inflation and begotten concerns that these inflation rates will become an embedded feature of the economy – already extortionate fares for a service that continuously lets customers down will increase by 5.9%. In regards to the unregulated tickets (anytime / peak time) rail operators are free to implement an even higher price increase.
Value for money?
We are to pay no mind, say the Tories, to the fact that less than half of passengers consider rail services to deliver value for money at current rates and that higher rates simply mean passengers will be paying more for the same poor service. Despite historic price increases, which have been in line with or above inflation, customers repeatedly report dissatisfaction with the service, which begs the question of why this latest uptick in prices would ‘support crucial investment’ and the financial stability of the railway’ without ‘burdening’ taxpayers, in the words of the DoT.
Considering the price hike will be almost 2% higher than the 4% wage ‘increase’ (really a pay cut once inflation is factored in) that was rejected by the RMT union just this month, one would be forgiven for thinking the extra profit will be used to address issues such as low wages, pay freezes and redundancies that have led to strike action among rail workers. Alas, no such change in favour of workers may be expected, with the hike being announced within a week of additional strike action being planned by the RMT union after Network Rail offered a ‘best and final’ offer of a 5% pay raise this year and a further 4% next year. That is, a pay rise of less than half the current rate of inflation and most likely next year’s as well.
That is bad enough, but the situation is revealed as being even more dire when you consider that the proportion of the inflation rate offset by the government’s feeble intervention to mitigate the price hike still leaves us with a price rise that outstrips historic inflation rates. Moreover, the planned price increase, not just egregious for being the steepest in nine years, also takes place in the context of wage increases averaging half of inflation across the economy.
As for ‘burdening’ the taxpayer, the ‘burden’ is, we must be clear, the one of ensuring profits in the millions for private companies, not the burden of ensuring acceptable labour contracts and an efficient rail system. Absent from the conversation in the mainstream media is the core issue of rail coach leasing firms, which are rolling stock companies that own the carriages used by train operators. These companies lease out train carriages to private train operators at breathtakingly high rates, with operators then passing these costs on to the taxpayers, employees and passengers. These rolling stock leasing companies have been allowed by successive Labour and Tory governments to run amok. And yet the most that the Tories, Labour and ruling class proxies in the mainstream media can do is ask for a slightly lower price hikes in times of historic inflation for a service that isn’t worth what customers are forced to pay for it.
Labour just another obstacle
In relation to Labour, the party opportunistically termed the increase a ‘sick joke’ which, although accurate, could equally apply to that party’s leader’s orders that its MPs not to join RMT picket lines or to his lip service to nationalisation.
So where is the additional money from fares going, if not to essential and yet severely undervalued workers or to improving the customer experience? Clearly, additional profits will go to private train operators and rail coach leasing firms, rather than to adequately remunerating essential and yet severely undervalued workers and to improving the customer experience.
From the private companies that profit on the backs of underpaid and precariously employed rail workers to the provision of services not worth anywhere close to what passengers must pay, the entire system needs to be overhauled. The Workers Party stands for the taking back into public control all essential utilities, the commanding heights of the economy and a publicly owned transport system is an integral part of a greener, socialist future for Britain.
- Department for Transport, Biggest government intervention ever to keep rail fares down (22 December 2022) https://www.gov.uk/government/news/biggest-government-intervention-ever-to-keep-rail-fares-down
- Transport Focus, Rail User Survey – train operator results (16 December 2022) https://www.transportfocus.org.uk/publication/rail-user-survey-train-operator-results-3/
- Transport Focus, Rail fares rise – passenger watchdog responds (22 December 2022) https://www.transportfocus.org.uk/news/rail-fares-rise-passenger-watchdog-responds/
- Private Eye Rolling in It (Issue no. 1583, 7-20 October 2022) p. 17.
- Statistica, Average growth of weekly earnings in the United Kingdom compared with the CPI inflation rate from March 2001 to November 2022 (December 2022) https://www.statista.com/statistics/1272447/uk-wage-growth-vs-inflation/#:~:text=Average%20weekly%20earning%20growth%20in%20the%20UK%20compared,when%20compared%20with%20the%20same%20period%20in%202021(accessed 22.12.22)