Douglas Carswell

17 AUG 2016

Rail fares rise because the government has a monopoly

Strikes on Southern Rail. Abellio keeping the East Anglia franchise despite persistently poor performance. Rail services aren't improving, but the government is raising fares yet again. If you need evidence that public-sector monopolies don't serve the public interest, this is it.

Rail fare rises are a tax on employment. Many of my constituents have no choice but to commute by rail to London for work. Yet the rail fares have increased faster than their wages.

The idea that rail fares only rise in line with inflation is - as Moneyweek's Merryn Somerset Webb astutely points out - a lie. CPI has long since replaced RPI as the official measure of inflation. But, for rail fares, RPI still applies. Why? Because it's over a percentage point higher. The aim is to milk commuters for as much as possible.

The government raises rail fares because it can. It has a monopoly. It owns all the track. It awards all the franchises. The Department for Transport has much more control since 'privatisation' than it ever did in the days of British Rail.

All the franchise system has done is replace quangocracy with corporatism. Private companies get to operate the railways, and reap guaranteed profits – at the expense of taxpayers and commuters. The rail regulator consistently supports the interests of the operators rather than the consumers.

The track, meanwhile, is still run by a government agency. Network Rail is fully state-owned. That doesn't make it any better than the franchise operators. In my corner of Essex, repairs regularly overrun, causing misery for my constituents as they try to get to work.

No matter how poor the quality of service, the government will always demand more from commuters – because commuters have no choice. Fares never fall, because there is no competition.

"Renationalise the railways," says Jeremy Corbyn. In what sense have they been privatised?

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