Government needs to act over higher ticket prices

COMMENT: Sell alcohol to kids and you will face consequences

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With the prospect of yet another train fare hike, calls to re-nationalise the railways are getting louder.

People are fed up of being asked to pay more and more when they claim the service they receive is not improving in proportion.

Critics hark back to the days when the railways were controlled by the government and when the taxpayer and passengers split the cost of funding them.

Today it’s very different, with trains run by an assortment of private companies and less government funding, meaning those buying the tickets pay a bigger chunk.

But if we remove the rose-tinted spectacles for a moment, British Rail was hardly a shining example. There were problems then just as there are now. And to give companies credit, the trains that operate on the London to Portsmouth line in 2012 are much better than the old slam-door versions.

We don’t go as far as saying that re-nationalisation is the answer. But we do believe that train companies should not be allowed just to keep on putting up ticket prices.

As it stands, in the new year average fares could go up by 6.2 per cent – an increase of £278 on a season ticket from Portsmouth Harbour to London Waterloo. This is because rail prices are based on the the Retail Prices Index, which rose to 3.2 per cent in July.

Firms are allowed by the government to add another three per cent on top of that – and some tickets can go up by more than 11 per cent, as long as other prices are cut.

This seems very generous to the companies and extremely harsh on rail users. We think it’s time the government had more jurisdiction over what firms can charge and made it clear to them that rise after rise is hardly the way to encourage greater use of public transport.

This is the nub of the issue. Because although commuters with no choice can effectively be held to ransom, there are many more potential passengers out there who are put off taking the train by high prices. They will simply stay in their cars instead.