High speed fares: not fair for all

One of the many assumptions which underlie the HS2 Ltd’s case for a new high speed railway is that ticket prices on HS2 trains will be the same as on conventional speed trains. This assumption was described as “bonkers” by Margaret Hodge at the Public Accounts Committee early on.

More recently, Labour peer Lord Hollick said it would “be more sensible to make those benefiting most from the railway, principally business travellers, contribute more towards the cost through higher fares” (in HS2). Now even Government ministers seem willing to accept Hodge’s analysis, with the Conservative minister Lord Ahmed responding that “the actual decision on fare structures will be taken by future Governments” but going onto add the somewhat socialist view that the Government’s “underlying assumption is that it is more important to maximise usage for the wider benefit of citizens and the economy than charge premium fares.”

Yesterday, new rail fare increases came into effect, with an annual season ticket usable on the fast Virgin services from central Birmingham to London now costing over £10,000.  (This is nearly twice the price of a London Midland only season ticket into London, at a mere £5640.)

Critics might argue this is an unfair comparison, given that we could be looking at HS1 and comparing prices to conventional season tickets: but here again high speed season tickets cost much more than conventional.

According to Kent Online Maidstone to London season tickets are now £4221 on the conventional speed trains, compared to HS1 season tickets at £5207.

But what these figures hide is that conventional train fares in Kent have risen compared to other services to pay for investment in HS1, even where HS1 isn’t an option for the journey.

This means that the real world price for a season ticket on HS2, just to go between London and Birmingham, the first two cities to be connected could be as much as £17773 in 2016 prices.

Once again, real world experience shows that the underlying assumptions made by HS2 are incorrect, and that high speed rail has expensive knock on effects for people using alternative services.

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