The Tories will do nothing about the broken system that has resulted in the highest rail fare rises in five years, writes Liam Martin-Lane
Last week, millions of us saw our bank balances stretched a bit further as we returned to work with rail fares increased by an average of 3.4 per cent. This is the highest increase in five years.
Britain already has the highest rail fares in the whole of Europe. This issue has now become so serious that residents of Oxford, Colchester and Hastings have overnight become unwilling members of ‘the 5k commuter club’. Residents are now paying more than £5,000 for an annual season ticket – a ridiculous proposition just a decade ago.
Remember when the Conservatives promised lower fares would follow railway privatisation in the 1990s? Instead of lower fares, rail privatisation has resulted in a broken natural monopoly system, where market competition is next to impossible and an incentive to put service before profit is non-existent. The result is the completely unjustifiable fare hikes imposed on all of us.
Today’s Conservative government will try and put their usual spin onto this disaster. They will compare the increase to inflation, and constantly refer to how private rail companies are using our hard-earned money to improve the railways.
Try telling that to the residents of Hove – where Peter Kyle increased his majority to over 18,000 from just 1,000, in part thanks to his relentless scrutiny of Southern Rail’s incompetence. Try telling that to those in Halifax, where the rail service makes London’s commuter rail stock look like the Orient Express. Finally, try telling that to businesses struggling to attract and retain the best talent because of the rising cost of travel.
John Major’s Conservatives did not listen to Labour in the 1990s, and Theresa May’s Conservatives will not listen now. There is no clearer sign of their dogmatic approach to this crucial service than the actions of transport secretary, Chris Grayling, who spent much of last week’s travel chaos absent from public scrutiny in Qatar. Not content with selling a national profit-making asset (the then East Coast Main Line), Grayling’s commitment to ideology hit a new low with the taxpayer-funded bailout of Virgin East Coast, the very company which profited directly from the 2015 privatisation.
Rather than another trip to Qatar, Grayling could stop and chat to France and Germany’s transport ministers, or indeed, the mayor of London. He might learn a thing or two about keeping fares down and providing a service that boosts the national economy and productivity. With a crisis in public and private sector recruitment, a stagnant economy, and punishing inflation, it is time for a government that will put passengers first and deliver a rail system worthy of a modern industrial nation.
Liam Martin-Lane is the Chair of Redbridge Young Labour. He tweets @LML96_
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