In response to another hike in rail fares – by an average of 3.1 per cent across England and Wales – the Labour Party has staged a coordinated protest at a number of railway stations across the country. The amount by which train operators can increase the cost of regulated fares – which make up 45 per cent of all fares – is controlled by the government, and Labour has accused Transport Secretary Chris Grayling of failing to step in and protect rail users against rising costs.
Labour MPs, councillors and activists gathered at commuting hotspots at the crack of dawn on Wednesday morning to hand out copies of a party-produced mock newspaper, the Daily Squeeze, which criticised the “Tory Rail Rip Off” and outlined “Labour’s plan” for transport; the party has pledged to bring the railways back under public ownership, and to cap rail fares. Jeremy Corbyn called the hike, which will cause some season tickets to rise in price by £100, a “disgrace and a shame”.
MPs in the North of England protested the increase, and complained of categorical mismanagement and underinvestment, despite the promises of the Northern Powerhouse, that were adversely affecting their constituents.
Alison McGovern, MP for Wirral South, told Spotlight that the Tories had overseen “poor punctuality” and were “failing to invest in rail where we need it – especially connecting the North”. Her constituents, she said, wanted to get to Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle and Scotland more quickly – “not everything is about London.” “On Merseyside itself, Merseytravel is an effective public body looking after the travelling public, but nationally, the government has let us down.”
Debbie Abrahams MP, who led a protest at Greenfield station in her Oldham East and Saddleworth constituency, demanded that the Northern and TransPennine Express franchises “be brought back into public ownership”, arguing that the “standard of rail travel they are providing for rail passengers is unacceptable”. She cited IPPR North research, which has shown that transport spending per person has risen twice as much in London than in the North since the Northern Powerhouse was introduced; “these are shocking figures which continue to show the under investment in our local transport infrastructure.”
Grayling defended the hike on the Today programme on Wednesday morning, claiming it was the unions’ demands for their workers that were to blame. “Typical pay rises are more than three per cent,” he argued, “and that’s what drives the increases. These are the same unions that fund that Labour Party,” he added.
Meanwhile in London, Labour activists used the first day of the new ticket prices to canvas rail users for Sadiq Khan’s mayoral re-election campaign. Leaflets accused the government of “failing commuters” and listed Khan’s achievements thus far, including opening the night tube and introducing the “hopper” bus fare. Sadiq Khan chose to freeze Transport for London fares, so travel costs will not increase in the capital. Londoners will go to the polls to elect their next mayor in May 2020.