It was announced today that train fares next year are going to go up across the country by an average 8%, i.e. RPI plus 3. I am really disappointed that yet again my commuting constituents are going to face astronomical fare rises, which is why, as the more generous local residents have recognised, I have long advocated a more favourable deal in the South East. I will say more about what I intend to do later in this post but first, while not apologising for the increase, I want to just address some of the more political points that are being made on this issue.
Most people who follow my commentary on various issues know that I understand that party politics tends to turn most of the electorate off and so I save my partisan points for the Chamber. However, it is important to note that this is not something the Coalition Government has just dreamt up; the formula of RPI plus 3 was introduced for Southeastern customers under the last Labour Government, while the rest of the country faced increases of only RPI plus 1. And yes, before someone says in the comments, I know we’ve been in Government for a year, but as most people also recognise we’ve taken the reins at a time that this country faces the largest deficit since the Second World War. I also acknowledge that in that time we’ve had High Speed 1 built, which is great if you live anywhere near the route and can afford the extra premium you pay as a customer to use. And maybe the increases are as a consequence of privatisation, but Labour had 13 years with large majorities in the Commons to renationalise the rail service and didn’t.
So now I’ve got that out of my system and hopefully put it in a bit of political context I would like it firmly placed on the record that I don’t agree that Southeastern customers should be continuing to pay the plus 3 formula. I think commuters across Kent and neighbouring counties have paid their fair share. Any future investment in nationwide rail services should be paid for by other train users. If the South East commuters paid for HS1 then why should they now be asked to stump up for HS2? In my view they shouldn’t. The money Southeastern get from the commuters already should be enough for investment in stations, rolling stock etc but the main thing constituents ask me for is simply a better service. They want a service that gets them to their destination on time (preferably with a seat), stops at the stations it is scheduled to stop at, that the staff are polite, and that the toilets are clean. If five years of the highest increases in train fares in the country cannot deliver that then we have more than a problem of simply being an additional squeeze on the wallets of commuters.
Train operating companies have some leeway in how they implement their fare increases and I will be writing to the Chief Executive to ask for some leniency in how the fares are increased on various routes. I know people will read this beyond my constituency boundaries, and I apologise that this may impact you adversely, but I will be making representations for consideration to be given to lower increases for those travelling from stations in my constituency. I will also be making further representations to Government Ministers to try and ensure that the plus 3 formula is reduced in the South East before other parts of the country – we’ve paid our fair share and now it is time for a fair fare.