Up, and over the odds

On January 2nd train fares regulated by the government went up by 2.7% (average), driven by the July annual increase in RPI (retail price increase). The link to RPI has changed over the years, but as the table by Railfuture shows (below),  a £100 fare in 2003 would now be £181.33. That 83% increase in ticket prices over 16 years compares with just 45% inflation in consumer price index. CPI is calculated differently to RPI (for example   it does not include housing costs). CPI is nearly always less than RPI meaning train fares are based on the higher measure of inflation, meaning they don’t just go up but go up (arguably) over the odds.

Rail businesses and DfT have said for years that that fare rises are needed to pay for improvements. We’ve seen increased services, even at long last new trains (working through their defects). But as travellers continue to suffer too many late trains, too many cancellations, too many trains overcrowded, and franchise failures to increase services as promised can any fare rise be justified?

TransPennine Express, after a terrible Autumn for its passengers (even worse than Northern’s) announced a 3% rebate on season tickets. Shouldn’t other operators be made to do the same?

Penalty Fares: Northern promises discretion

Fine bank holiday at Sowerby Bridge station. People heading up the valley. Todmorden for Stoodley Pike, Smithy Bridge for Hollingworth Lake. A group of retired people, habitual car users but keen to use public transport, have spotted the signs about the impending imposition of penalty fares. “Have you paid?” “We’d love to but where is the machine?” Under new penalty fares rules even at unstaffed stations you must get a ticket or “promise to pay” chitty (the machines at unstaffed stations only take cards) before boarding the train. But if travelling west at Sowerby Bridge the machine is on the opposite platform, 3 minutes just to walk there and back. We timed it. At Mytholmroyd it’s a good 5 minutes.

HADRAG has raised a list of concerns.

Where’s there’s no booking office the machines only offer tickets from that station. So what if you want to save money by “split-ticketing”, need an add-on to a travelcard or just change your plans en route? How long are you expected to wait if there’s a queue? The notices say you must have a ticket for your whole journey. Who wants to pay a £20 fine? Northern have assured us that discretion will be applied, but the big yellow warning notices don’t seem to cover these situations, leaving questions unanswered. Our fear is that good people will be frightened off travelling.

Northern Fares: Still Fairly Unfair?

Not so long ago a HADRAG member starting in Halifax needed to spend the morning in Selby before travelling to Todmorden for an evening of singing. The off-peak day return from Halifax to Selby is £17.20, but for travel before 0930 the price goes up to £19.90. By coincidence if you were in London the same £17.20 would buy an Anytime Day Travelcard Zones 1-6; that is a ticket valid throughout Greater London, all day on train and Tube not to mention bus and tram. For off-peak travel the day Travelcard costs just £12.10. On an Oyster smartcard the effective price comes down to £11.80 – that’s Anytime not Off-peak. (Fares quoted are 2016 rates from National Rail/TfL online 15/12/15.)

Our Halifax rail user had to go to Todmorden after his morning in Selby. So to save money he bought a single from Halifax to Micklefield (the WY boundary) to travel in the morning peak (£5.40), plus a day return Micklefield-Selby (£6.20), plus a WY train+bus day rover (£7.90) to complete the day’s travel (skilfully avoiding the teatime-peak trap on the Tod trip!). Total £19.50 – less than the peak-time return just for Halifax-Selby and still more than a day’s travel in London. So who says fares are cheaper in the North?

Note that fares within West Yorkshire are cheaper than outside the boundary. But anomalies remain. Remember our good news story a year ago about fares from upper Calderdale to Huddersfield being reduced? After reminders from HADRAG, Northern has dealt with further anomalies so Halifax-Huddersfield is now actually a bit cheaper than the longer journey from Sowerby Bridge. But Halifax-Huddersfield (£4.70 anytime return, £4.30 off-peak or £3.10 one-way) is still quite a bit more than Halifax-Bradford (£3.90, £3.60 or £2.70). The higher fares are for a journey of little greater distance, but half as fast and with a quarter of the service frequency. Forgive the pun, but fares fair? We think not.

We can’t wait for smart ticketing London-style across Rail North. But let’s hope we get the fare deals – and fair deals – to match.

Header image attribution: flickr photo by underclasscameraman https://flickr.com/photos/underclasscameraman/3464921345 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license