Press release 24th February 2021

The usual annual punishment for rail passengers - rail campaigners condemn inflation-busting fare hikes

Monday March 1st sees fare rises of 2.6% kick in across England and Wales. "This is the usual annual punishment for rail passengers, just slightly delayed" said Bruce Williamson from the campaign group Railfuture. "In fact it's worse than that as the government is screwing the public with an extra 1% over and above inflation. As part of the government's announcement of a gradual easing of lockdown, they should be encouraging the public to start using trains again, but instead they're gradually pricing the railways out of existence. It just doesn't make sense to kick the rail industry when it's down.

"Even without the extra 1%, it would still be an inflation-busting increase, because the government continues to base fare rises on RPI, which is a higher measure of inflation than CPI, yet CPI is widely regarded as a more realistic figure.

"We really need to get the economy moving again and get people travelling back to work, but pricing passengers off the railways really isn't going to achieve this. Why are they charging us extra to do the right thing? There are many other jobs which are indirectly supported by rail users in city centres too. The potential knock-on effects are huge if we don't get this right.

"This latest price increase won't generate much cash for the government in itself, but it may have the effect of deterring passengers so much that it actually ends up costing the taxpayer more in the long term."

Notes to editors:

Railfuture is the UK's leading independent organisation campaigning for better rail services for both passengers and freight.

  • Government claims it is the "lowest actual increase for four years", which is true in purely numeric terms, but at 1.6 percentage points above CPI (the accepted measure of inflation) you have to go back to January 2013 (last use of RPI+1%) to equal it (4.2% fare increase with preceding July's CPI of 2.6%)
  • Given that the TOCs have ceased to be businesses and are now merely contractual-interface companies (to avoid the government becoming the employer, client of suppliers etc.) with the government receiving all revenue and paying all costs (apart from the open access operators who only set their own operator-specific fares) we expect that in England the same increase (2.6%) will apply to all fares, not just regulated fares
  • These increases are often presented as something the government 'caps' whereas in reality the government is actually imposing the rise
  • The government has reintroduced the policy from 2003 of RPI+1%, rather than do anything to control costs.
  • News articles have referred to CPI as the government's 'preferred' measure. RPI has not been an official government statistic for many years and the government has announced its intention to abolish RPI in 2030 and replace it with CPIH (CP plus housing costs)
  • The 1 March increase is being presented as being kind to season ticket holders. Whilst the delay from the normal start of January is welcome, it is likely that this is simply because the government couldn't decide in time for the implementation window for fare changes needed for advance sales
  • The International Energy Authority comments "Rail is one of the most energy-efficient transport modes, responsible for 9% of global motorised passenger movement and 7% of freight but only 3% of transport energy use." (https://www.iea.org/reports/rail)PIH (CP plus housing costs)