Minister insists increase in rail ticket prices for passengers is 'fair'

Rail Minister Huw Merriman has insisted the upcoming increase in rail ticket prices for passengers across the country is “fair”.

The government has announced regulated rail fares, which make up almost half of all fares, will increase by 4.9 per cent on March 3.

The fares usually rise in line with the level of retail price index (RPI) inflation from the previous July (9 per cent), but the government said it did not want to “overburden passengers” during a cost-of-living crisis.

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Mr Merriman said the government needs to “strike a balance” as it looks to keep rail fares down but also allow rail companies to generate additional revenue, after they collected almost £46bn of taxpayer-funded support during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Rail Minister Huw MerrimanRail Minister Huw Merriman
Rail Minister Huw Merriman

Speaking in Parliament, he said: “The government continues to intervene to keep fares affordable and encourage travel by capping increases below inflation.

“We have to strike a balance between encouraging passengers to use our rail network and supporting the rail industry to get back on a good financial footing, as it continues to deal with a revenue shortfall following the pandemic.”

He added: “It’s all about striking a balance and I believe that balance is a fair one.

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“In the last three years, £45.9bn has been contributed from the UK taxpayer to keep the railways going.

“The figure of 4.9 per cent is below inflation for this year and it can’t be that bad because Labour in Wales have done exactly the same thing, while in Scotland the SNP have put fares up by 8.7 per cent.”

Campaign for Better Transport has described the below-inflation increase as a “small mercy” but said hiking rail fares and freezing fuel duty “sends the wrong message about how we want and need people to travel”.

It will take the cost of an annual season ticket from Huddersfield to Manchester from £3,076 to £3,227.

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In the south east, a season ticket from Brighton to London will jump from £5,616 to £5,891.

The group also said it comes after a 5.9 per cent hike last year, which was “the highest rise in a decade” even though it was well below RPI inflation.

Transport Focus said “anything that limits fare increases has got to be welcome” as passengers have endured widespread disruption on the railways and a cost-of-living crisis in recent years.

According to the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), rail companies recieved £22.7bn of income in 2022/23. That included £8.6bn from fares and £11.9bn of government support.

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They also spent a total of £25.4bn on day-to-day operations in that year, when total of 1.4bn journeys were made across the UK (up 40 per cent on the previous year).

Governments have been increasing rail fares in line with inflation each year since 1996.

The rises were never more than 1 per cent above or below RPI until 2022, when the fare hike was capped at 3.8 per cent even though RPI stood at 7.1 per cent.