Will you rail against the government’s latest back door tax?


Two years ago a watchdog report suggested European rail travellers generally get a better deal on tickets compared with British users, especially in south-east England.

Passenger Focus said that tickets prices – for journeys made the same day to London from elsewhere in the UK – generally cost more than similar journeys in other European countries. On average, fares were 50% higher in Britain than on the continent. Now Transport Secretary Philip Hammond has told MPs that the railways of the UK are a “rich man’s toy”. He was responding to a question about regulating fare prices on the planned high speed rail link so that it would be a “railway for everybody”. He said it was an “uncomfortable fact” that trains were already used by the better-off and said some fares were “eye-wateringly expensive”. Commuter season tickets are set to rise by about 8% on average next year. The above-inflation increase is part of the government’s agenda to reduce the cost to the public purse of running the rail network. But the Campaign for Better Transport described the change as a “disaster for people already struggling with rising costs”.

For example, averages for day return journeys of three to 10 miles in different countries show a considerable difference:

  • Britain £6.92
  • Germany £5.08
  • Spain £2.52
  • France £1.85

The Passenger Focus report said some long-distance fares to London were cheaper than comparable fares to other European big cities. But it also found that passengers wanting to travel at short notice or who needed flexibility in journey times would generally be charged more, compared with European ticket-buyers.

For example, in Britain long-distance turn-up-and-go fully flexible day-return fares to the principal city (London) were 87% more expensive than in the next most expensive country surveyed – Germany. This type of British fare was also more than three times as expensive than in the cheapest country surveyed – the Netherlands. British annual season tickets for journeys of no more than 25 miles were 88% more expensive than the next most expensive country – France – and more than four times pricier than the cheapest country – Italy.

For example, annual season tickets price averages for journeys of 11 to 25 miles were thus:

  • Britain £1,860
  • France £990
  • Germany £944
  • Spain £788
  • Italy £444

Having masterminded the sell-off of British railway regions to their private sector friends, the Tories are now whittling the subsidies away to further reduce the state contribution. If left unchecked, prices will go through the roof over the term of this government. With commuter season ticket prices rising by an average of 8% over the next year it will make the viability of travelling by train even more shaky and, as it is being done to reduce train subsidies, merely serves as a back-door tax on hard working people who seek to do no more than to travel to work. It is another example of how we are not “all in this together”.

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