THE BLOG

Private Rail Has Failed Us - Bring It Back to Public Ownership

05/01/2016 10:12 GMT | Updated 04/01/2017 10:12 GMT

Our privatised rail service does not deliver us trains very reliably (Network Rail's most recent figures show fewer than two thirds of passengers arrive at their destination on time, each year), yet there is one thing we can always rely on it to provide with regularity: price increases.

Early each January, the cabal of firms which run our rail system 'welcome' us all - commuter, leisure passenger and taxpayer alike - into the new year with yet another demand for more cash.

This year, the day fell on 2 January, when all fares across the country were raised by 1.1% on average.

On the face of it, 1.1% may not seem like very much. Certainly, that's what the Rail Delivery Group - which represents the firms who will benefit from the raise - would like you to believe. It announced the raise on 4 December with the words 'the smallest increase in six years' .

And so it is.

But there's rather a lot that announcement didn't mention.

For example, though this is a 1.1% increase in fares, that does not mean the rail companies will receive only a 1.1% increase in income.

The cost of the increase will instead be met by all UK taxpayers, who the Department for Transport admits will have to spend £700million between now and 2020 simply to keep the increase in rail fares to the rate of annual inflation.

And of course the fact that this fare increase is the 'lowest in six years' means we should consider just how much fares have risen in previous years.

Since 2010, average commuter rail fares have been hiked 25%, and unregulated fares - all non-commuter services - by 33%. Average wages have increased almost three times less - just 9%.

As a result, UK commuters now spend almost twice as much of their annual wage - a monthly commuter ticket from Brighton to London cost £391 before 2 January 2016, some 17% of the average monthly wage - on rail fares than their contemporaries in Germany (nine per cent of income spent on rail journeys of similar distance).

The difference between UK commuters and those in Italy and Spain (both six per cent) is even greater.

This situation cannot and should not go on. Our railways are a public service, enabling people to get to work and linking families and friends who are separated by long distances.

They can, and should, be the pathways to our business success and our engagement in leisure.

Instead, they are overpriced, but underfunded. Overcrowded, but understaffed. Driven by profit, not by what is best for passengers.

But there is an alternative.

The Green Party, for which I am the representative in the House of Lords, stands for the return of the railways to public ownership.

It's a policy the majority of the public wants, which could deliver 10 per cent ticket price cuts by 2017, and annual savings of £1.5billion.

That's why Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion is pushing for a Railways Bill - which will receive its second reading in Parliament in the new year - to bring each franchise back into public ownership as they expire: because it is what is best for passengers, for taxpayers, and for the country as a whole.

Privatised rail is failing us all. It's time to make the system work.