YET ANOTHER massive hike in rail fares is threatening government plans to gentrify inner London and push low paid workers out to the cheaper suburbs. Fare rises averaging 3.4% came in with the New Year – the biggest increase in four years.
The new increase means that the rise in train fares since the Tories came into government in 2010 is now outstripping the rise in wages over the same period.
Since the early days of the Tory-led Coalition Government in 2010, Tory housing and benefits policies have been designed to encourage developers to build posh, expensive flats in inner London. These properties are usually way beyond the reach of even well paid workers and are then bought up by private landlords – who rent them out at extortionate rents.
Alongside this, the last two governments and the current one have assumed that families could move to outer London. Low paid workers could also move to cheaper “dormitory suburbs”. This social cleansing approach to housing policy has not been able to mask that the problem for most people is the amount of housing available, not where it is.
However, that strategy presumed that cleaners, porters, catering and retail staff could head in to work in inner London with relative ease, with the cost of their fares being offset by the lower rents it was assumed they would be paying. This was always nonsense – not least because the transport system does not have the extra capacity to carry so many extra workers.
Now the high cost of travel is threatening the strategy even more. In part, this is a problem of the Government’s own making. Central subsidies to rail travel have been decreased over the last decade from around half to one third of the costs. Campaigners argue that this is unfair: having more commuters travel by train is in the general public interest, they say, and subsidies should provide an incentive to deliver this.
Campaigners held protests today, the first working day after the Christmas and New Year break, at some 40 stations across the UK – meeting a mixed response. The Government dismissed their concerns, with the Department for Transport saying that the price rises were in line with inflation and were needed to maintain and improve transport infrastructure.
The opposition Labour Party, however, sided with commuters – claiming that some commuters’ fares have increased by £2,500 since 2010. Andy McDonald, Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary, said, “Commuters have repeatedly been told that higher fares are necessary to fund investment, but promised investment has been cancelled and essential works have been delayed by years. Decisions taken by government Ministers are making rail travel unaffordable for the many in favour of huge profits for the few.”