There are a number of reasons for this fare rise that I am confident that play a role in this decision. Obviously, the first is to reduce the government’s funding of the railway. If fares go up, the Train Operating Companies will earn more money, reducing the government’s need to subsidise their profits. In addition, if more money was coming into the Train Operating Companies’ coffers, Network Rail, also funded by the government, could put up the rail access charges. Thus, they in turn would earn more money, also reducing the financial burden on the public purse. Therefore, the cockamamie way that our railway industry is structured, in that the government essentially pays the private companies to run the trains, but also funds the infrastructure, is a factor in the price rise.
The second reason for the price rises is Philip Hammond, the Secretary of State for Transport, who is universally known for being pro-car, and who I suspect simply sees rail investment as a waste of money. Indeed, while in opposition he stated that road transport was the only thing that could ‘kick-start’ economic growth regionally, and, more damningly, that the railway was soaking “up ever-larger volumes of taxpayer's money” and was a “bottomless pit for public finance.” (See my earlier post on Hammond's pre-election Pro-car, anti-rail parliamentary activities HERE.) After all, through Network Rail, the railways cost the Government a lot of money through renewing rolling stock and investments in infrastructure. Therefore, on entering his post as Secretary of State for Transport, Hammond already had a view that roads were a preferable means of travel, and that railways cost too much. As such, I feel it is unlikely that his attitude has not played a role in trying to reduce the financial burden of the railways on the Department for Transport (DfT).
Considering these factors, I believe that there is a third reason for the fair rise that cannot be divulged to the public. In short, Hammond and the Government don’t want you to use the railways. Rail usage has risen considerably over the last decade, and is still predicted to increase further over the next. However, to accommodate this more investment will be required in infrastructure and rolling stock. But, with the new economic environment, and the attitudes of the Secretary of State for Transport, they’d rather not have to do this.
Thus, I suspect that the DfT may have a secret policy of effectively pricing people off the railways which would reduce the need for further expenditure in the long-term. Indeed, many commentators have commented that the RPI+3% will actually mean fewer people will use the railways. Travellers would be forced onto the roads, where, while congestion is still a problem, modification and maintenance of the infrastructure would be far cheaper for the DfT. Indeed, it is not surprising that in the CSR road projects received much more support numerically that rail ones.
Of course, it is quite possible that within the Department for Transport this is not a stated policy. All I am intimating is that if the fare rises are seen through a prism of the future infrastructure investment that will be required, Hammond’s view of rail transport and given the structure of the industry, it is possible that the DfT is secretly trying engineer how we travel through price rises to reduce their long-term costs.