Politics

Rail fares could rise after £12bn bill to keep network running during Covid


R

ail fares could rise after a £12 billion bill was run up to keep the train network running during the Covid-19 pandemic, a Cabinet minister signalled today.

He insisted the landmark reforms did not have any secret agenda to hike ticket prices.

However, pressed on the issue on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: “We might as well have a grown-up conversation about it.

“There is a balance between the fact that the taxpayer has plugged a hole of £12 billion during the coronavirus to keep our railway afloat and the fact that people who use the railway are already subsidised by the wider taxpaying public.

“Of course, any government in the future will have to weigh those things up.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps

/ PA

“But today is about simplifying and in doing so making a system which is much more customer-focused.”

The prospect of higher fares, though, will be galling to many commuters, especially as so many trains were virtually empty during lockdown periods and are still far below previous levels.

Ministers are not expected to seek to recoup the £12 billion from the fare payer.

The reforms also aim to drive efficiency which if delivered can keep down fare rises.

However, Mr Shapps’ words suggested passengers could pay a greater share in future of the cost of the railways, rather than the taxpayer.

Trains at Waterloo railway station

/ REUTERS

Big hikes in ticket prices, though, would risk discouraging rail use at a time when the Government is seeking to persuade more people to use trains.

‘Agree a long term plan for London’

Meanwhile, business chiefs in London called for the Transport Secretary and Mayor Sadiq Khan to swiftly agree a long-term plan for funding Transport for London.

Adam Tyndall, programme director for connectivity at London First, stressed that the rail reforms could be “transformative if the detail is right”.

He added: “The decision to base nationwide service contracts on a TfL-style system is a significant vote of confidence in how transport operates in London. With this Review published, the Government must now rapidly agree a long-term, sustainable, funding settlement for TfL itself.”



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