Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 7th January 2015

Commuters heading back to work after Christmas will have had to deal with more than the cold weather with rail fares going up yet again on 2nd January. Since the General Election, fares have risen significantly with the cost of a season ticket between Three Bridges and London going up by a whopping 24%.

At a time when the failure to address housing costs is pushing households to their limit, the high price of getting to work is something people can ill-afford to pay. The last Labour Government put an end to the ‘flex’, which had allowed train companies to raise fares above inflation by as much as 5%. However, the Coalition’s decision in 2011 to reintroduce it has sent costs spiralling, with a temporarily suspension for one year only in the run up to May’s General Election.

With two-thirds of Crawley’s workforce living outside of the town, the rising cost of rail not only affects the lives of outbound commuters but reduces the attractiveness of public transport for inbound commuters, adding to the pressures on our over-congested roads and increasing levels of pollution.

Labour has called on the Government to scrap the flex and introduce a cap on fares for all regulated routes. In addition, rail fares need to be simplified with a new legal right to the cheapest ticket, eliminating some of the complexity which is helping to rip-off rail commuters.

Yet the changes the rail network now needs go well beyond simply addressing out of control fares. The Government’s failed franchising process is in urgent need for review. We need to better involve local decision-makers to provide a more joined-up approach for transport, make more use of passengers and employees’ experience in the decision-making process and tackle the monopoly on rolling stock. In addition, we must allow public sector operators to bid for rail contracts and create more joined up thinking between the various parts of the rail network.

By addressing inefficiencies in the system we can afford to improve the network and do so in a way which limits the burden on commuters and the taxpayer.

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