Rail fares could be frozen next year to support ‘back to work’ message

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Rail fares could be frozen next year, ministers hinted, amid warnings from MPs that a substantial hike “contradicts” the government’s “back to work” message.As it stands, many train tickets are expected to cost 1.6% more in January, but the government should take action to reform rail fares.

It is understood that the issue of pricing will be considered in the fall, alongside a wider set of reforms, which should also consider the introduction of flexible subscriptions.

The potential increase is based on July’s Retail Price Index (RPI), but Railroad Minister Chris Heaton-Harris said he expected “any rate increase will be the most low in four years ”. Rail fares only increased 1.1% in 2016, making it a benchmark for any ticket increases next year.

Mr Heaton-Harris said: ‘Taxpayers have been very generous in their support to keep trains running throughout the coronavirus pandemic and, if it is fair that passengers also contribute to the maintenance and the better services they use, a smaller increase will help secure the system. returns to force. ”

Former Conservative Party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said it “wouldn’t make much sense” for the government to raise tariffs at a time when it was trying to encourage people to return to their homes. workplace.

Transport committee chairman Huw Merriman called for the Williams Review, which is expected to advocate the destruction of Britain’s rail franchise system, to be “started immediately”.

He said: “I think what is important is that the rail industry offers consumers good value for money. I think there are massive reforms underway with rail, which will improve travel. These have been delayed, and I think that’s a real shame. .

“I would love to see the Williams Review, which is going to change the way rail works, launched immediately, rather than waiting like we do now.

Mr Merriman also called for the introduction of ‘flexible’ subscriptions to recognize changes in work patterns, adding: ‘We need this to come out now in order to encourage people to commute just a part of. the week and put them back into the economy. ”

Since the lockdown began in March, rail use has fallen to just 23% of pre-Covid-19 levels, while only one in three white-collar workers have returned to the office. Flexible subscriptions, which people can use to travel fewer days a week, are already being tested in the south east and north of England.

Business leaders urged the government to remove the “outdated” annual rate hike to encourage rail users to return to their offices.

Darren Shirley, Managing Director of the Campaign for Better Transportation, said: “The government must recognize that the needs of commuters have changed and ensure that the railroad meets those needs in an affordable manner, otherwise we risk the consequences. economical and long term. the social costs of the permanent decline in the public transport system. ”

Mick Whelan, leader of the train drivers union Aslef, said any potential fare hikes would be “wholly inappropriate” and should be canceled due to the coronavirus.

“People are struggling with Covid-19, and indications are that things are going to get worse, not better,” he said. “So now is not the time to increase prices. That is why I am calling on the government to do the right thing and announce that there will be no price increase next year. “

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