Plans to raise fares for commuters travelling at the height of rush hour should be ruled out, according to a report by MPs published today.

Report warns against rush hour rail fare rises

Ministers have been encouraged to set out a long-term policy on annual season ticket fare rises in a new report, Rail 2020, by the House of Commons transport committee.

Committee chairman Louise Ellman has said that reducing the cost of the railways to taxpayers must not be achieved by "ramping up fares".

She stated it is vital that the public knows more about how public money was spent on the railways "so that there is confidence it does not leak out of the system in the form of unjustified profits".

The committee's report comes days after controversy over average rises of 4.2 per cent for regulated fares, including season tickets, took effect for passengers.

Following a previous report by Sir Roy McNulty into rail costs, the government is looking at a variety of measures, including managing peak-time demand by increasing fares for those wanting to travel at the height of rush hour.

Peak-time trains

The committee's report recommends that the government rule out forms of demand management which would lead to higher fares for commuters on peak-time trains.

The MPs reported that many lower-paid workers had no choice but to travel at peak times, explaining:"Higher prices at peak times might make a difference to demand at the margin but would for the most part be a tax on commuters who have no effective choice over how or when they travel."

The committee is right to say that costs should be cut, but that this should not be at the expense of passengers or of station staff. Stephen Joseph, Campaign for Better Transport

The Campaign for Better Transport has welcomed the report and proposals on fares. Chief Executive Stephen Joseph said: "The government should implement the proposals for more modern and flexible fares.

"The committee is right to say that costs should be cut, but that this should not be at the expense of passengers or of station staff.

"We also welcome the committee's proposals for franchising, with far more transparency on costs and funding, and with devolution of some services to local authorities."

Fares policy concern

A regulated fare rise would have been even higher if the government had not pulled back from the original plan of an "RPI inflation plus 3 per cent" rise in favour of a formula which limits the increase to RP1 plus 1 per cent.

The committee has welcomed the decision not to proceed with RPI plus 3 per cent, but MPs say they remain "concerned about where that leaves the government's fares policy... when it is attempting to reduce the cost of rail to the taxpayer".

The report wants the Department for Transport to set out a long-term policy on regulated fares. It also notes that the recent west coast franchise row has shaken public confidence in the Department for Transport. An independent report into the handling of rail franchises is due to be published soon.

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