Southern Rail train waiting at Brighton station
Spinning the railways
UK passengers spend up to six times as much of their salary on rail fares than commuters using largely publicly owned railways in France, Germany, Italy and Spain. We have the most expensive commuter fares in Europe – and it’s no coincidence that out of those countries listed, we’re the only one with a fully privatised system.
Today it was announced that from 2 January 2017 average rail fares are set to rise by a further 2.3%. This includes regulated fares, such as season tickets and anytime day tickets (rises set by the government), and unregulated fares such as advance purchase fares (set by train companies). Since 2010, rail fares have increased at double the speed of wages. When interviewed on Radio 4’s Today programme the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) kept stressing the role of government in setting fares. But actually – most fares (around 55%) are set by private train companies and since 1995 standard class unregulated fares have increased by a massive 32%. On average, all rail fares have increased by 24% since privatisation. The Rail Delivery Group also indicated that the fare rise will be below-predicted growth in wages for next year. But, with the IFS stating that real average earnings will still be below their 2008 levels in 2021 looking at the OBR’s projections – I don’t think many rail passengers will be cracking open the champagne this weekend.
It was also no coincidence that on the day before this fare increase announcement Rail Minister, Paul Maynard, spoke about “celebrating” what the rail industry has achieved since privatisation including “twice as many people are using the railways than 20 years ago”. What the Minister and groups like the RDG always fail to mention though is that the evidence shows that this increase is linked to factors such as growth in GDP and changing commuter patterns – and not caused by privatisation. Despite what we’re told about the private sector bringing investment into rail – it’s the taxpayer that continues to fund the vast majority of that investment. Meanwhile, in 2014-15 private train companies paid out £222m in shareholder dividends.
Chris Grayling also announced today that Delay Repay 15 will be first introduced on the Govia Thameslink franchise from 11 December 2016 – so passengers will be entitled to claim compensation if their train is delayed by 15 minutes or more. While that’s good news for passengers who have to put up with Southern Rail – it pretty much ignores the elephant in the room. Southern Rail is a failed franchise and Govia should be stripped of the franchise – with the line returned to public ownership. Passengers deserve a better service. The Department for Transport have insisted that no other operator could do a better job on the Southern franchise than Govia. Really? To me – that just illustrates how blinkered the government is due to their ideological adherence to privatisation. What low expectations they must have! Recently, the House of Commons Transport Committee described the level of service on the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern (TSGN) franchise, particularly Southern Rail, as “woeful”. We know from East Coast that public ownership can be a success – with the line returning over £1bn to the Treasury and having high satisfaction ratings.
So while our fares continue to go up – our trains are often delayed, ticket offices are being closed, guards are being removed from trains and driver only operations are being extended. Rail privatisation will never deliver affordable fares and the decent public service we deserve. We’ve had enough of the spin. It’s time the government stopped tinkering with this failed model and returned our railways to public ownership.
Action for Rail is organising a national day of action on 3 January 2017 – in support of affordable fares, public ownership and a properly staffed railway – we hope you can join us on the day.