Rail fares – a letter to Portsmouth South MP Flick Drummond

Written by Kylie Barton, Portsmouth Green Party

Caroline Lucas’s Railways Bill – a Private Member’s Bill (PMB) presented to Parliament for the first time in June 2015 is scheduled to receive its Second Reading on 22 January. The Bill provides for the rail network to be brought back into public ownership step by step, with franchises reverting to control by a public body either when they fail, or when their contract expires.

This is good timing as I recently contacted my MP, after venting my frustrations at the price of a single compared to a return at railway staff one evening as I waited for yet another delayed service. Below you can read my letter, and what is actually a very personalised, well thought out response. There is also a public consultation you can take part in here.

Dear Flick Drummond,

I am writing as a new constituent of yours having moved to the area in December.

My query is regarding train prices. I work in Eastleigh and so every day buy a return ticket from Fratton to Eastleigh for now £11. What is incredibly frustrating is that a single is £10.50. This means I am paying almost as much on days where I only require a single, if I get a lift one way for instance, or if I am going elsewhere after work. It is extremely frustrating, a single should be around half the price of a full fare.

I asked staff at the station and they said that their hands are tied by the government, so if the government are setting prices, why is the rail not back in the public sector’s hands where the needs of the people are put first and not the profits of big business. It’s an outrage. This at a time of increased fare prices again, whether the lowest increase in years or not, any increase is not justified when quality of service is still poor. There are at least 2 delays a week on this line, and there are always unfortunate people who have to pay for the privilege of standing.

I want you to raise the issue of rail fares in parliament, with specific focus on the fact that many singles are almost as much as a return. I write for the Huffington Post and am active in politics locally and so I will be investigating this matter further to see how many other fares in the region have this issue with singles and returns.

Please email me your response rather than post.

Yours sincerely

Kylie Barton

And the response 4 days later:

Dear Kylie

Thank you for your email. The pricing of single fares very close to return ones is an old anomaly, and one which varies from train operating company to another. South West Trains have a fairly inflexible fare structure, and I hope that the public will take the opportunity to tell the Department of Transport what improvements they want to see in the next franchise round. The consultation on this is open at the moment:

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/south-western-rail-franchise

I have pressed SWT in meetings to introduce greater flexibility in ticketing – for instance in flexible season tickets, or to look at a pay-as-you-go card offering more competitive pricing on the Oyster model. This would make great sense in our part of the world where a lot of people make journeys one way by train and another by bus, or by some other mode.  We already have the Solent Go card for buses, so an extension of this to cover trains would be sensible. This is an idea I’ve had discussions with other constituents about and I hope we can make progress over the course of the year.

The government regulate certain fares, effectively meaning any increase is regulated – they don’t actually set individual fares as such. The train operating companies’ hands are only tied in that the DfT will not necessarily let them increase fares – there is nothing to prevent any TOC offering lower fares or more flexible arrangements. The government did consider the anomaly of single fares that are nearly the same as returns in the last Parliament, and I will find out what happened to the trial which was expected to run last year with single fares at a lower level. It may be it did run, but on a number of trial routes.

I have already led a debate in Parliament on rail services in the Portsmouth area – the Hansard is at

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmhansrd/cm151021/halltext/151021h0001.htm#15102161000001

In order to get better services for Portsmouth we need a number of things to happen, including Crossrail 2 (which will free up track capacity on the approaches to Waterloo) and additional passing points on the line between Havant and Guildford (which are planned already). I also want to see investment to switch to overhead electrification which will allow trains to run more quickly. The line from Fareham to Eastleigh is key to this, as there is potential for very high speed running to Waterloo via that route (with some upgrade needed to restore double track where it is currently singled). I have been discussing this with the Chancellor, who is well aware of the potential economic boost our area would get from the investment.

There is a debate on rail tomorrow which I will probably not be able to take part in, as it clashes with one on cancer drugs which I have had in my diary for some time. It is an Opposition-led debate, so we only had notice of it at the end of last week. However, I hope I can assure you that I take this issue very seriously and the issue of ticketing is something we need to address as well as the infrastructure the trains run on. I have had great support from other MPs in the region in pushing for better rail services so far, and have had a lot of correspondence with constituents about it too. The current situation is not acceptable and I am determined that it will be improved.

I hope that gives you some reassurance, but do please let me know if I can help you with anything else.

Kind regards

Flick Drummond

Member of Parliament for Portsmouth South

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