Political drama could mean 'early bird' rail discounts

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ticketsRui Vieira/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Last week's revelation that double-digit rail fares could be on the cards has seen a desperate coalition casting about for how to stem the tide of commuter rage. Yesterday the Department of Transport said it was considering 'early-bird' fares for people who travel before the rush hour.

So how would it work, and why has it been forced to take drastic action?



The row

The pressure started mounting with the publication of the inflation figures last week. The July figures are used to set the following year's ticket price rises, so a surprise jump to 3.2% means passengers will face an average price rise of 6.2%. Some fares will even hit £5,000 for a commuter season ticket

As we reported last week, the rises quickly attracted huge criticism from politicians and commuters. There were even protests in a number of railway stations. George Osborne's policy of allowing train operators to increase regulated fares 3% above July's RPI was criticised for being rigid and unfair.


Politics

One particular concern for the Conservative Party is that many of these outraged commuters live in key parts of the country, with slim Conservative majorities. There's a real risk that ill-conceived price rises could be the nail in the coffin for Tory support in these areas. MPs from these constituencies have been openly calling for the Treasury to cap price rises as it did last year.

Some politicians are optimistic. Transport Secretary Justine Greening said: "I am keen to see what we can do to keep rail fares down to something affordable" Then when she was asked whether there would be Treasury money available for rail that would enable the fare rise to be reduced. She replied: "Well, if you don't ask, you don't get." There is hope, therefore, that the Autumn statement from the Treasury could soften the blow.

Early bird tickets

One alternative to capping that is being suggested, according to the Daily Express, is cheaper tickets for those who travel before the rush hour. Sir Roy McNulty's review of the railways released in March called for increased segmentation of prices - which would mean rail companies would be able to offer cheaper services before the rush hour, and higher prices at the very busiest times.

There are no figures being suggested at the moment, but it could mean as much as a 10% discount for those who are able to start their working day an hour or two earlier.

If the Treasury frees up the cash to pay for it, this could mollify commuter voters and restore a bit of calm in the coalition. But what do you think? is there any hope, or will the railways become the preserve of the wealthy? Let us know in the comments.

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