Labour refuses to commit to cutting rail fares

Thursday, Feb 22, 2024

LONDON: Labour has refused to confirm if rail fares will fall under its plan to renationalisetrain operation.

Shadow rail minister Stephen Morgan said the party wants passengers to get “the best possible fare” but would not pledge that ticket prices would be cut if the party wins the next general election.

Regulated fares – which include season tickets on most commuter journeys, some off-peak return tickets on long-distance routes and flexible tickets for travel around major cities – will increase by up to 4.9 per cent in England on March 3. Other fares will rise by a similaramount.

After he and rail minister Huw Merriman separately delivered the annual George Bradshaw Address rail speech in Westminster on Tuesday night, Mr Morgan was asked whether fares would be reduced under a future Labour government. He replied: “We want to keep a central focus on improving the experience of passengers but I can’t say more than that. “There are real challenges around fares and ticketing that need to be simplified. “We want to make sure passengers get the best possible fare.”

Mr Merriman stated that the Government has attempted to “split the balance between the UK taxpayer and the fare payer” in relation to fare rises.He added that the upcoming increase “may seem hard” but the price hike “would have been 9 per cent” without Government intervention.

Mr Morgan used his speech to set out Labour’s plan to bring train operation into public ownership. He said: “We will deliver the biggest reform of public transport in more than a generation, taking control out of the hands of Whitehall officials and into the hands of industry experts, and giving accountability back to the public where it belongs.

“In places with fractured, fragmented chaos we see today, we will deliver a unified rail network with passengers at the heart, bringing our railways back into public ownership as contracts expire.

“Examples from around the world tell us that with the right structure and the right incentives, we can see railways that help drive better and greener growth across every region across our country.

“Our plan is driven by pragmatism, by the need to end the fragmentation, inefficiency and waste which sees very few winners but millions of passengers and taxpayers losing out.”Earlier on Tuesday, the Government published its draft Rail Reform Bill, setting out long-awaited plans to overhaul Britain’s railways. Proposals include the creation of a new public sector body named Great British Railways (GBR) to hold responsibility for rail infrastructure and awarding contracts to operate trains.

Operating contracts are currently handed out by the Department for Transport to private train companies, although several brands are under Government ownership such as LNER and TransPennine Express.

Attempts to improve punctuality and simplify ticketing are among other measures set out by ministers in the draft Bill. It is unlikely the legislation will make it on to the statute books before the next general election.

In his speech at the Westminster event, Mr Merriman said the Government’s plan would “harness the best of the private and public sectors”.

He went on: “We will put decision-making in the hands of Great British Rail to integrate track and train.“We will not build an unaffordable state bureaucracy run for the benefit of vested interests and trade unions.” He added: “No matter who is in my place after an election, I hope they will deliver this rail reform because the industry is at one in wanting it.”