I have done a couple of TV interviews on the steep rail fare rises today and it is striking that the mood out there is very angry. The fares regulation rules were designed to protect people who had no choice other than to use the railways, notably south east commuters, and it is they who are hardest hit.
Having 12 per cent slapped on the price of your ticket, as has been the case some commuters on Southeastern as the price of having the high speed line, is really excessive and completely against the spirit of the legislation. Train operators I have talked to are confident that the growth in usage is not going to be affected, but I am not so sure. Of course petrol prices are rising, too, but that is always a much more hidden cost which motorists tend to just put up with. Season tickets are upfront money coming out in one lump sum. So they hurt more.
This is, of course,just the start of things to come. For reasons that are unclear – though probably out of fear that rises of near double digits across the board would be unapalatable – Hammond has postponed the RPI plus three per cent rise until next year, but by the end of this run of rises, many people may well have fled from the railway. That in turn will diminish the case for investment and, indeed, for HS2.
There is, of course, no logic to any of this. A government that was really interested in boosting rail use permanently would have a coherent strategy to do so, not have a policy that is supportive of rail investment on the one hand, but then deterring people from using the railway on the other.