Rail companies will be permitted to raise average regulated rail fares next year by 6.2%. Not surprisingly, this has been met with dismay and anger by rail travellers, especially long-distance commuters, who could see their annual season tickets going up by several hundred pounds.
Some fares, such as advance tickets, are unregulated. Others, such as anytime, off-peak and season tickets, are regulated by the government. The formula for working out permitted price rises for regulated fares is RPI plus 3%, where RPI is the July annual inflation rate based on the retail price index.
The RPI figure was announced by the ONS on 14 August and was a surprisingly high 3.2% – up from 2.8% in June: see Table 21 in the ONS’s CPI And RPI Reference Tables, July 2012. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the chart on the left.) Hence average fares can rise by 3.2% + 3% = 6.2%.
Rail travellers are angry on three counts:
First, the RPI measure of inflation is generally around 0.5% higher than the CPI measure (which is used for working out public-sector pay increases and the uprating of pensions and benefits). The July figure for CPI inflation was 2.6%.
Second, the extra 3% added on top of RPI means that that rail fares are going up more rapidly than other prices, and incomes too. The reason given for this is to shift the burden of funding the railways from the taxpayer to the traveller.
Third, the formula applies to average fares. Rail companies can raise particular regulated fares by up to 5 percentage points more than the formula provided they raise other fares by less than the formula. Thus some fares are set to rise by 11.2% – including some of the most expensive season tickets.
The government justified the increases by arguing that the higher fares will allow more investment by the rail companies, which could result in lower costs in the future. Nevertheless, two thirds of the revenue from the above-inflation increases will go to the government and only one third to the rail companies.
Inflation shock as rail fares set to soar Channel 4 News, Ciaran Jenkins (14/8/12)
Protests as rail fare price rises announced The Telegraph (14/8/12)
How do our rail fares compare with the rest of Europe? BBC News (14/8/12)
Rail fare increase will make life better, says minister BBC News (14/8/12)
Passenger Focus: Train companies ‘using dark arts’ BBC News, David Sidebottom (14/8/12)
Rail fares set to increase by 6.2% Financial Times, Mark Odell (14/8/12)
Rail fares set to rise by 6.2% in January Guardian, Gwyn Topham (14/8/12)
Rail fare hike of 6.2% sparks angry reaction BBC News (14/8/12)
Soaring rail fares will do nothing for the recovery The Telegraph (14/8/12)
Commuters plead with Osborne to prevent 10 per cent rise in rail fares Independent, Oliver Wright (15/8/12)
Rail fare rises: how to keep your ticket prices as low as possible Guardian, Mark King (14/8/12)
Documents and information
Fares Review Conclusions 2003 Strategic Rail Authority (June 2003)
Fares Office of Rail Regulation
Fares on National Rail Association of Train Operating Companies
- What are the arguments for and against the general principle of using an RPI+X formula for regulating rail fares?
- What are the arguments for and against allowing train operating companies to raise regulated rail fares by an average of RPI plus 3%, with 2 of the 3 percent above RPI inflation going to the government?
- In what ways are travellers likely to respond to the higher prices?
- Why are some travellers likely to have a much lower price elasticity of demand for rail travel than others? What determines this price elasticity of demand?
- What externalities exist in rail transport? How should this impact on the government’s rail pricing strategy?
- How is infrastructure development funded for (a) rail, (b) roads and (c) airports? Does this lead to an efficient allocation of transport investment?
- How does rail pricing in the UK compare with that in other European countries? Should other European countries follow the UK’s policy of above inflation fare increases to fund rail investment?
Traffic congestion is both frustrating and costly. As The Economist article below states:
Congestion does more than irritate drivers. It makes employees and deliveries late, it snarls up modern “just-in-time” supply chains and it clogs up labour markets by making commuting difficult. The cost of all this is almost impossible to measure. But a big review of transport carried out by Rod Eddington, a one-time boss of British Airways, put the cost between £7 billion and £8 billion ($10.6-$12.2 billion) a year.
So what can be done about it? The report, published by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), looks at various solutions. These range from staggering work times, car sharing and working from home, to improving roads and road pricing.
As economists we should look at the relative costs and benefits of alternative solutions in coming to sensible policy solutions. The problem is that people are often very emotional about traffic schemes. They may complain about sitting in traffic jams, but don’t want to pay to tackle the problem. There is thus a political element in any debate about solutions. Not surprisingly, the government has shied away from introducing road pricing
So what are the best solutions to traffic congestion and how do we overcome the political obstacles? The following articles look at these questions.
CBI urge radical changes to avoid gridlocked roads Independent, Peter Woodman (15/3/10)
Bunged up The Economist (15/3/10)
Road travel ‘needs big overhaul’ to avoid gridlock BBC News (15/3/10)
CBI sets out case for road pricing Logistics Manager (16/3/10)
CBI urges change to work patterns to avoid road gridlock Business Financial Newswire (15/3/10)
Road tolls ‘essential’ to avoid gridlock autoblog UK, Nic Cackett (15/3/10)
Tackling congestion, driving growth CBI (March 2010)
- Why does the market fail to achieve the socially optimal amount and pattern of road use?
- What externalities are involved in road use?
- What are the arguments for and against increased road building as the solution to traffic congestion?
- Assess the arguments for and against road pricing
- If increasing use is to be made of road pricing, what is the best form for road pricing to take?
- Why is road pricing ‘lethal’ for politicians?
- Assuming you were in government and were acutely aware of how your policies might be perceived by the public and the press, what would you do about traffic congestion?
Transport issues in the UK are always newsworthy topics, whether it is train delays, cancelled flights, the quality and frequency of service or damage to the environment. Here’s another one that’s been around for some time – high-speed rail-links. Countries such as France and Germany have had high-speed rail links for years, but the UK has lagged behind. Could this be about to change?
The proposal is for a £30bn 250mph high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham, with the possibility of a future extension to Northern England and Scotland. This idea has been on the cards for some years and there remains political disagreement about the routes, the funding and the environmental impact. Undoubtedly, such a rail-link would provide significant benefits: opening up job opportunities to more people; reducing the time taken to commute and hence reducing the opportunity cost of living further away from work. It could also affect house prices. Despite the economic advantages of such a development, there are also countless problems, not least to those who would be forced to leave their homes.
People in the surrounding areas would suffer from noise pollution and their views of the countryside would be changed to a view of a train line, with trains appearing several times an hour at peak times and travelling at about 250mph. Furthermore, those who will be the most adversely affected are unlikely to reap the benefits. Perhaps the residents of the Chilterns would be appeased if they were to benefit from a quicker journey to work, but the rail-link will not stop in their village. In fact, it’s unlikely that they would ever need to use it. There are significant external costs to both the residents in the affected areas and to the environment and these must be considered alongside the potential benefits to individuals, firms and the economy. Given the much needed cuts in public spending and the cost of such an investment, it will be interesting to see how this story develops over the next 10 years.
Podcasts and videos
£30bn high-speed rail plans unveiled Guardian, Jon Dennis (12/3/10)
Can we afford a ticket on new London-Birmingham rail line? Daily Politics (11/3/10)
All aboard? Parties disagree over high-speed rail route BBC Newsnight (11/3/10)
The opportunities and challenges of high speed rail BBC News, David Miller (11/3/10)
Beauty of Chilterns may be put at risk by fast rail link, say critics Guardian, Peter Walker (11/3/10)
High-speed rail is the right investment for Britain’s future Independent (12/3/10)
Hundreds of homes will go for new high-speed rail line Telegraph, David Milward (12/3/10)
- Make a list of the private costs and benefits of a high-speed rail link.
- Now, think about the external costs and benefits. Try using this to conduct a Cost-Benefit Analysis. Think about the likelihood of each cost/benefit arising and when it will arise. What discount factor will you use?
- There are likely to be various external costs to the residents of the Chilterns. Illustrate this concept on a diagram. Why does this represent a market failure?
- How would you propose compensating the residents of the Chilterns? Are there any problems with your proposal?
- Will such a rail link benefit everyone? How are the concepts of Pareto efficiency and opportunity cost relevant here?
- To what extent would this rail link solve the transport problems we face in the UK. Think about the impact on congestion.
Ever keen to boost his environmental record, Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, has decided to extend the London congestion charge westwards into areas like Kensington and Chelsea. Residents are up in arms, but will the larger congestion zone help further with the management of traffic and carbon emissions in London?
Congestion zone could fuel voter revolt against Livingstone Guardian (19/2/06)
London congestion zone (interactive map) Guardian
London congestion zone (podcast) Guardian
London C-charge zone spreads westwards Times Online (19/2/06)
Livingstone praises congestion zone extension Guardian (19/2/06)
Bigger new congestion zone launched Guardian (19/2/06)
London’s Lefty Mayor Fights Traffic Guardian (18/2/06)
Leafy Kensington shows its anger BBC News Online (17/2/06)
||Using diagrams as appropriate, show the impact of the extended congestion zone on traffic levels in London.
||Discuss whether the implementation of a larger congestion zone will help move closer to a socially optimal position in this market.
||Assess other measures that the Mayor of London could introduce to meet emissions targets for the city..