Hard graft ahead despite some relief on rail fares

·2 min read
The Retail Prices Index influences train fare rises  (Evening Standard)
The Retail Prices Index influences train fare rises (Evening Standard)

Rare good news for London’s diminished but long suffering army of rail commuters. Train fares will rise by less than the rate of inflation next year — and not at all until March.

Given that the Retail Prices Index — the cost of living benchmark used to calculate fare increases — is heading for 13% in July, that was the least the outgoing Johnson administration could offer.

The prospect of fares going up by RPI + 1 on 1 January just as £4,000 energy bills kick in was not one any administration could tolerate.

But the question remains, just how much less than inflation will the actual increase be next spring? The Government’s announcement still leaves scope for a double-digit rise that would be another huge blow to London’s economy.

For many workers that could be the tipping point that persuades them to work from home full time, or for a day or two more a week.

The Government needs to be making it as attractive as possible for people to make their daily journeys into the City and the West End or London’s centre will find it hard to throw off its economic “Long Covid”.

Commuters will also argue that they are being given little incentive to get out of their cars and take more environmentally friendly trains unless season ticket prices are reined in.

There are many threats to London’s business ecosystem at the moment. Pricing commuters off the railways and depriving the heart of the capital of its life-blood of spending is one of them.

The guidance dropped in the Sunday papers this weekend is helpful but it is only a start.

The Government and the rail sector will now have to begin the hard graft of agreeing the actual figure at a time when the public finances and those of the railways are under intense strain.

There is no easy answer.