DEBATE: Is an average price increase of 3.4 per cent in rail fares for 2018 justified?

The Journey Of A Southern Rail Commuter
One in nine trains failed to meet the rail industry’s punctuality target in the past 12 months (Source: Getty)

Is an average price increase of 3.4 per cent in rail fares for 2018 justified?

Ben Southwood, head of research at the Adam Smith Institute, says YES.

First of all, rail fares are not going up 3.4 per cent. The Office for Budgetary Responsibility – the official forecaster – reckons consumer price inflation will rise 2.4 per cent over 2018. Assuming they’re right, prices will rise one per cent in real terms.

Second, and more importantly, gradually shifting the burden of a train journey to the person using the train is a good thing.

After decades, we have finally got to a point where the passenger pays around two thirds, and the taxpayer pays one third. Under a heavily-subsidised European-style system, everyone pays more taxes, or the government borrows more, to fund cheaper tickets.

But the UK has seen faster growth of passenger kilometres than any country except Slovakia in the past 10 years. It hit all-time record highs last year, and surpasses every country except France – whose network is double the size.

It may seem like we can simply magic train tickets cheaper, but we have to pay somehow. Passengers, not taxpayers, should foot the bill.

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Olivia Utley, news and features editor at Reaction, says NO.

If rail companies are to charge passengers a third of their annual wage for a train ticket (a 12-month season ticket from Swindon to London is now nearly £10,000), they should provide them with a quality service.

At the moment, they’re not.

One in nine trains (12 per cent) failed to meet the rail industry’s punctuality target in the past 12 months – meaning they arrived at their final stops more than five minutes late for commuter services or 10 minutes late for long-distance journeys.

That’s simply not good enough.

Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity shows that the British people have lost faith in the free market. If the government is to revive that faith, it must prove that there is a correlation between cost and quality. Hiking rail fares while failing to improve services (even passengers commuting from Brighton to London on the beleaguered Southern rail line are to see their yearly ticket rise by around £163) will only encourage the Corbynistas in their calls for nationalisation.

Read more: Train fares are going up by 3.4 per cent in January

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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