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‘Unfair’ Labour rail fare cuts will hit roads and benefit wealthy, experts warn

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Labour says it will save average commuters more than £1000 a year by cutting rail fares by a third

Labour will deal a brutal blow to the country’s ailing road network with a £1.5bn plan to slash rail fares, experts have warned – unfairly boosting affluent train commuters at the expense of millions of drivers. 

The party claims it will save the average rail commuter more than £1,000 a year from next January by cutting fares by a third, to be funded from the Department for Transport’s (DfT’s) existing budget.

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald refused to rule out axing road projects to pay for the giveaway, which was not included in Labour’s manifesto. 

But statistics suggest the change will benefit only a fraction of travellers who rely on trains – most of them wealthy – while harming the many more who use their cars to get around.

Edmund King, president of the AA, highlighted DfT figures showing car journeys accounted for 77pc of distance travelled last year, compared with 9pc by rail.

The South East and London will disproportionately benefit from the rail fare cuts.

Measured by number of trips, cars were used in 61pc of journeys compared to 2pc by rail. Mr King warned that diverted funds risk “going into a minority – even though important – travel mode”.

He said: “There is nothing good for the environment being stuck in a car or indeed a truck in congested traffic – it actually makes it a lot worse.

“So until we’ve all got electric vehicles, which is some time ahead, cutting the road budget is counter-productive and could backfire not only on the environment but also on the economy. 

“Whether we like it or not the reality is that we rely on the road network for the vast majority of our trips, and the majority of freight. It’s not a great decision. Outside of the major cities people use their cars everyday. Cars are not a luxury, they’re a necessity.”

The Conservatives have pledged £2bn for filling potholes by 2023-24 in a bid to get Britain moving again.

Julian Jessop, a fellow of the Institute for Economic Affairs think tank, called the Labour policy a “cheap gimmick” with “no economic logic”. 

According to rail statistics, the top 20pc of earners make 43 train trips a year on average, more than three times the number of the bottom 20pc. Train demand has also doubled in the past 20 years to more than 1.5 billion journeys annually, according to the DfT figures.

Mr Jessop said: “It’s bad for both income inequality and regional inequality because most people who use rail regularly are relatively well off commuters and most of them live in London and the South East.

“There is an environmental case for shifting away from cars towards more rail but that only works if more people are going to use trains, which are already overcrowded.

“If you’re serious about the environment it actually makes sense to invest more money on the infrastructure of the railways, rather than lowering fares for those who are already relatively well off. I’m afraid it is just another election wheeze.

“Even with the best will in the world, I can’t see the economic logic to this.” 

Labour’s pledge came after Britain's train companies confirmed they will hike prices by an average of 2.7pc next year.

Institute for Fiscal Studies expert Ben Zaranko said: “There is a clear geographical element to this because train travel is used much more frequently by commuters in London and the South East, and they tend to be better off.” 

He added: “Labour could instead choose to replace £1.5bn in road funding with cash from its £55bn a year investment fund, he added.

“Most of  the £55bn per year is so far unallocated, and so could be used for roads if they so wished without increasing spending/borrowing above what is  already planned. The question is really whether do intend to replace that roads funding, and if not, which roads project will lose out.”