On the first of March, the Tory Government pushed through inflation-busting rail fare increases, for the first time since 2013, despite the fact that so many Brits are already struggling to cope in the midst of a pandemic. Today, fares are almost 43%, or an average of £950, higher than they were in 2010, with some commuters now paying in excess of £3,450 more than they would have done a decade ago. Average fares have risen two and a half times faster than average wages.
Since becoming Shadow Rail Minister last year, I have pushed to make rail travel more affordable, accessible, and sustainable. However, the increase in rail fares during a pandemic runs the risk of turning commuters away from rail travel for good.
The pandemic has meant that the number of people regularly travelling by rail has fallen substantially, with many staying at home and moving to remote working. As restrictions are eventually eased, people need to be supported to get back onto our trains. These fare increases do nothing to encourage commuters to switch from cars to railways, with the risk of further damage to our town and city centres, because many shops, cafes and restaurants rely on the trade that rail passengers bring.
Rail travel is one of the most environmentally friendly and sustainable modes of transport. Encouraging people back onto our railways is crucial for post-pandemic restructuring and the decarbonisation of our economy.
As we move forward, we must value the importance of railways for our economy and reduce the burden on commuters from such punishing rail fare increases. Labour has long argued that public ownership of the rail network will provide better value for the taxpayer and for passengers. The Government must stop bolstering profit for private companies and deliver a rail network which puts passengers first.