Rail fares rise again

By | Category: Travel rumblings

Yet again the time approaches when rail fares rise again. We moan, we complain, the media highlight how much annual season ticket costs but rarely do we consider the effects on tourism.
This week in parliament there have been two separate debates on railways. In both of them the link between tourism and rail travel was raised. Theresa Villiers, the rail minister said that “… rail connectivity…is vital for the tourism sector…” Both conservative and labour MP’s stressed the importance of rail but comment on pricing was minimal. Having the most expensive rail service in Europe, price must play a part in whether we – or overseas visitors – use rail for days out, weekend breaks and holidays.
One debate was on the franchise for the south west of England currently held by First Great Western. This may be the most important line for carrying holidaymakers as it whisks passengers to Devon and Cornwall. Today and tomorrow, thousands will use it to get to the west country to visit relations for Christmas. Or will they? One person I know has hired a car because she found it cheaper.
The other debate was about rail services to Scotland; again an important destination for visitors and where trains are widely used for leisure. In particular Cross Country provides the longest train journey in the UK from Aberdeen to Penzance and is a big carrier of visitors to holiday areas. The importance of tourism was again pointed out but little on fares –unless I missed that bit.
MP’s in both debates must have been aware that the increases were due and the size of the increases yet few comments were made about money. Alison Seabeck, MP for Plymouth More View said, “I don’t know whether anything can be done about fares but they are clearly an important issue,” and Oliver Colville – the other Plymouth MP – called the cost of tickets “horrendous.”
Why can’t something be done? Why must fares rise when the McNulty report said there are opportunities for savings of £1 billion. The government says that an increase of RPI plus 1 instead of the planned RPI plus 3 shows they are doing something. Yes, a pathetically small something. The forecast of Visit Britain for the number of visitors from abroad next year is flat compared to this year despite the appeal of the Jubilee and the Olympics. The government managed to find more money to boost tourism promotion yet one of the simpler ways would be to manipulate the cost of travel. Boris Johnston, Mayor of London, is said to be considering cheap fares for early morning travellers which harks back to the old workman fares. Why can’t there be cheaper fares for incoming visitors both domestic and overseas?
If this government can forestall automatic increases in fuel duty and postpone APD increases for a few months to aid the economy why can’t it do the same with rail fares so that it helps visitors, travellers and commuters alike?

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