THE URGENT need to reform the railways will become even more overwhelming today when it is confirmed that fares will rise by approximately 3.5 per cent in the New Year. A price hike which directly correlates with the higher rate of inflation, it will – inevitably – be yet another insult for all those rail users who continue to endure unprecedented delays and disruption across the North.
Yet, while the Government has previously maintained that such increases are a necessary price to pay if the railways are to benefit from a new era of investment and that passengers should stump up for a greater share of this financial burden, this justification is no longer sustainable when Northern is scrapping services with such frequency, especially on Sundays, and when just 22 per cent of TransPennine Express trains here reach their destination within 10 minutes of schedule.
Under-performance like this would not be tolerated in any other industry or any public service – schools and hospitals would be placed in special measures if they failed pupils and patients on this scale – and Ministers will be betraying the travelling public if today’s announcement is not accompanied by a range of new measures to improve punctuality and reliability.
The Yorkshire Post has previously argued that all new franchises need to include a number of strict conditions on customer service, including simpler rules governing the swift payment of compensation to passengers when trains are late. But, given that the troubled Northern and TransPennine Express franchises both still have many years to run, Ministers need to go much further and index-link future increases to performance.
Rather than prolonging the current funding mechanism which is effectively a reward for failure because there is an insufficient incentive to improve services, or introduce modern rolling stock on local lines here, the onus would be firmly on operators to earn the right to increase fares by inflation so passengers are no longer taken for a ride. Even Transport Secretary Chris Grayling can’t say no to this, can he?