I would like to thank those constituents that have contacted me about rail fares and making train travel affordable.
After a period of record low passenger numbers, we need to encourage people back on to trains to help our economy and our environment, and this cannot be achieved when trains are unaffordable for many people. Despite this, regulated fares were increased again for 2021 and there are now fears of rail passengers facing the highest fare hike in a decade in 2022.
The Government has announced several changes to the rail system over the last year. Under the current system of Emergency Recovery Measures Agreements for train operating companies, as introduced in September 2020, taxpayers continue paying hundreds of millions of pounds in profit to private rail companies to run the network. This is completely unacceptable.
More recently, in the Government’s rail plan released in May this year, it introduced a more flexible ticket system. However, this system is nowhere near ambitious enough. I know the Campaign for Better Transport, for example, has said that the new flexible tickets “are not comparable to the discounts for people commuting full time” and that they could turn out to be a “real missed opportunity”.
The plan also announced the creation of a new public body, Great British Railways. While I welcome steps to increase public ownership and control over the railways, the plans do not go far enough. I believe fuller public ownership, rather than a concession model, would better serve the state, the public and long-term investment. While we may see a change of name on the side of the trains, my concern is that fundamentally passengers will still be left short-changed. I fear we have nationalised risk but continue to allow the privatisation of profit.
As Shadow Minister for Disabled People, I think it is essential we recognise the challenges of lived experience for disabled people go beyond medical impairments and we must also consider how we remove societal barriers. The right to physical accessibility, is for many, dependent on access to reliable and affordable public transport.
We are in a climate emergency and green, efficient transport must be the future. I worry that decisions taken by the Government are making rail travel unaffordable at a time when it is vital to get the rail sector on a stable footing. I assure you I will continue to raise these issues in Parliament and elsewhere.
Thank you once again for contacting me about this issue.