Thursday 5 December 2019 4:26 am

Does Labour’s pledge to cut rail fares make sense from a social mobility perspective?

Does Labour’s pledge to cut rail fares make sense from a social mobility perspective?

Grace Blakeley, economics columnist at the New Statesman, says YES.

Many have pointed out that middle-earners are most likely to use trains, but few analyse why.

First, trains around London are too expensive for many commuters, meaning that they are forced to use slow and cramped buses.

Second, outside London trains often aren’t an option because of the parlous state of our rail infrastructure‚ particularly when travelling from east to west in the Midlands and the North.


Understanding the impact of Labour’s pledges on transport requires taking them as a whole. As well as cutting rail fares, Labour will invest billions of pounds in infrastructure — including long-overdue projects like Crossrail for the North.

Labour will also reinstate 3,000 bus routes that have been cut under the Tories, which act as lifelines to people in rural communities.

These pledges will not only cut the cost of living for working people — they are also imperative for meeting our decarbonisation targets. Investing in public transport across the country is the only way we will achieve a just, prosperous and sustainable economy.

Emma Revell, head of communications at the Institute of Economic Affairs, says NO.

Rail accounts for a tiny two per cent of journeys taken each year in the UK. It might not feel like it from Labour HQ in London, but just 11 per cent of people commute to work by train, and train passengers are wealthier than the average Brit.

What Labour is effectively proposing is making it cheaper for city workers to get the train from their leafy suburban home to the office, by transferring the cost of a ticket onto lower-income workers in more deprived areas of the country, who only ever drive, walk, or catch the bus to work.

Fare increases over the last two decades have in part come from a re-prioritisation of costs. In 1995, half the day-to-day cost of running the railways was borne by travellers, and the rest by taxpayers. Today, roughly 75 per cent of the cost sits on passengers’ shoulders.


It is bad public policy and bad politics to burden people who don’t use trains with the cost of the service — especially when the latter tend to be those in lower income brackets.

Main image credit: Getty

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.

Share