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  1. Spotlight on Policy
4 December 2019updated 13 Jul 2021 11:47am

Labour promises to slash rail prices by a third

By Rohan Banerjee

The Labour Party has outlined its intentions to cut rail fares by 33 per cent should it be elected into government later this month.

In the long term, the party plans to re-nationalise the railways when private train company contracts expire. But in the interim it has promised to reduce the price of season tickets and other regulated fares by a third.

It has also pledged to build a centralised online booking system that will not charge any booking fees, while making train travel free for people under the age of 16, and creating a “London-style ticketing system across the nation” which will simplify ticket prices by introducing zonal fare brackets.

The ticketing system would include a daily price cap, similar to the one used in the capital, and would allow passengers to pay for journeys using contactless bank cards or smartphones. Labour said that journeys between cities and towns and other places outside of the new proposed zones will follow a pricing model that would be principally distance-related.

Labour also said it would commit to “single-leg” pricing, meaning that the return price of a ticket will always be the combined outward and return leg prices.

Labour has claimed that its overhaul of rail travel could save the average commuter £1,097 a year, although it would only apply to fares in England as transport policy in Wales and Scotland is devolved.

Darren Shirley, chief executive of Campaign for Better Transport, told the New Statesman that reforming the fares system should “represent a priority for the next government, whichever party is in power.” He added: “We want to see rail tickets that are better value for money and a fares system that is simpler and fairer.”

Labour’s plans, which it estimated would cost £1.5bn to implement, would be paid for, the party’s shadow transport secretary, Andy McDonald suggested, by Vehicle Excise Duty – a tax based on emissions that the Conservative Party has earmarked for improvements to road infrastructure. 

McDonald said in a statement: “Labour will scrap the bewildering and outdated fares and ticketing system that discriminates against part-time workers, discourages rail travel and excludes the young and low paid. Labour is on the side of passengers which is why we will introduce a simpler, fairer and more affordable system for all, integrated with other forms of public transport.”

The Conservative Party’s polices on rail and other public transit, meanwhile, include a firm commitment to the construction of Northern Powerhouse Rail (formly known as High Speed 3) between Leeds and Manchester, and more train services between Liverpool, Hull, Sheffield, and Newcastle.

The Tories have pledged £4.2bn of new spending on local train, bus and tram services, including a new metro or light rail system in West Yorkshire, covering Desbury, Pudsey, and the Spen Valley. They have also promised extensions to the Metrolink tram system in Greater Manchester, including to Stockport and Bolton, as well as upgrades to the Tyne & Wear Metro and new heavy rail lines in the North East.

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