How will Hertfordshire commuters be affected by the election result?
PUBLISHED: 06:59 05 December 2019 | UPDATED: 11:45 05 December 2019
Following last week’s announcement that rail fares are set to rise by an average of 2.7 per cent in January, this paper has looked at how party pledges could affect commuters in 2020.
The 2.7 per cent rise is marginally less than the 3.1 per cent increase at the start of 2019, and is below the benchmark inflation rate - but it means our commuters could pay an extra £100 getting into work next year.
While the Conservatives currently have no commitments to reverse the fare increases, their election manifesto claims that "railways need accountability, not nationalisation", and pledges to "create a simple, more effective rail system".
Bim Afolami, Conservative candidate for Hitchin and Harpenden, has put fixing the GTR train services at the top of his local agenda, and last year served as a parliamentary private secretary in the Department of Transport.
Mr Afolami has previously backed commuter-led campaigns to freeze rail fares - as has transport secretary and Welwyn Hatfield candidate Grant Shapps. However, both have since indicated that freezing fares are not the solution.
Mr Afolami told this paper: "My strong view is that our fare prices should not increase in real terms. They have not. They have been held at inflation. This is the third year in a row that average fares nationally have been held below the benchmark inflation measure, on which rises are based.
"However, in our constituency where our train franchise has delivered a decline in the quality of service, the announcement to pay more money for less reliable trains is - quite obviously - frustrating. My focus if re-elected will be getting our services up to the right standard - we deserve it."
Last month, the Liberal Democrats announced a five-year rail fare freeze, with Hitchin and Harpenden candidate Sam Collins saying the policy "could save local commuters over £1,800".
If elected, the Liberal Democrats would cancel the 2.7 per cent rail fare increases set for January, and freeze all regulated fares and season tickets. Mr Collins says the policy - expected to cost £1.6 billion nationally - is "a long overdue move, that can be delivered immediately".
He added: "I hope this will be welcomed by the long suffering commuters in our area. People are paying way over the odds for what has often been an appalling service. We will also strip rail companies of franchises if they don't meet the standards expected of them and foster alternative competition."
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A Liberal Democrat government has also pledged to open up the franchise bidding process to public sector companies and local authorities.
Labour went one step further last week, however, promising to slash rail fares by 33 per cent if they win the election - a policy estimated to cost £1.5bn a year.
The announcement - which would be implemented immediately - came after a wider manifesto pledge to nationalise the UK train industry which the party plans to achieve within five years of forming a government. A nationalised industry would allow fares to be capped and regulated, resulting in steady prices for commuters.
Kay Tart, Labour candidate for Hitchin and Harpenden, said: "An integrated railway system under Labour will save the average commuter £1,000 a year. It will guarantee fair fares for part-time workers, and deliver a simple London-style ticketing system.
"Hitchin and Harpenden trains have been a shambles. We promise to deliver a reliabe railway service which is accountable to its users."
Green Party candidate for Welwyn Hatfield, Oliver Sayers, has also outlined his party's plans for "making train fares cheaper."
Mr Sayers said: "By bringing the railways back into public ownership and giving responsibility to local councils for shorter distance franchising, this would reflect local priorities rather than profits. The Green Party would also invest heavily in the rail network, by electrifying all railways - through sustainable energy - and investing in government-owned rolling stock to ensure that public transport is always the cheaper option than private cars."
Last week, the Hitchin Rail Commuters Campaign group - formed in 2018, following the chaotic GTR Rail timetable changes - hosted interviews with Kay Tart and Sam Collins at the Radcliffe Arms in Hitchin, as both candidates answered questions on issues surrounding constituency train services.
Conservative candidate Bim Afolami was unable to attend the interviews, instead offering to provide written answers.
Jon Cooke, member of Hitchin Rail Commuters Campaign group, said: "It was great to hear from Kay Tart from Labour and Sam Collins from the Liberal Democrats on how they would try and improve things, however unfortunately Bim Afolami from the Conservative Party did not want to participate."
Fellow member Greg Stewart added: "Despite repeatedly saying this is his highest priority, and being not only our elected representative, but also previously a PPS in the Department for Transport - and thereby having specific access and influence - he has achieved precisely nothing for us. His non-attendance speaks volumes."
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