Tax domestic flights to fund rail fare cuts, public say

But government has been making rail fares more expensive while cutting taxes on domestic flights

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Thursday 11 November 2021 18:06 GMT
<p>The UK has an extensive rail network but passengers complain of expensive ticket prices </p>

The UK has an extensive rail network but passengers complain of expensive ticket prices

There is strong public support for taxing domestic flights in order to fund greener alternatives, a new poll released during the Cop26 climate summit has found.

Pollsters Opinium found a majority of the UK population would support the government using cash for higher levies on short-haul aviation to subsidise rail fares.

The finding comes as world leaders and negotiators in Glasgow hope to close in on a deal to limit carbon emissions. The summit has been punctuated by rows about politicians turning up by jet when they could have taken the train.

58 per cent of those surveyed by Opinium said they would support "raising taxes on short-haul domestic flights in the UK" if the income was used to "subsidise greener forms of transport such as high speed trains" – with just 15 per cent disagreeing.

The wildly popular approach is the opposite of government policy – which has raised rail fares above inflation which slashing air passenger duty on domestic aviation in last month's budget.

Miatta Fahnbulleh, chief executive of the New Economics Foundation think-tank, said the government was both reckless and out "out of step with public opinion" by slashing taxes on domestic aviation.

“As the climate talks move into a concluding phase, this polling makes it crystal clear that the British people want to see climate leadership not empty rhetoric from this government," she said.

"That means funding green, clean public transport systems, such as trains and buses that stretch across the country - and raising, not cutting, taxes with a frequent flyer levy."

15 per cent of people take 70 per cent of all flights in the UK – while nearly 50 per cent of the population do not fly at all in any given year. Some campaigners have called for a frequent flier levy that would be paid by the minority who take the most flights.

Fatima Ibrahim, co-director of the campaign group Green New Deal Rising, told The Independent: "It is the people outside the conference centre that have focused minds and set the agenda for these climate talks.

"Alongside the student strikers and people taking to the streets of Glasgow, this polling tell us that up and down the country people want to see bold climate action.

"If Boris Johnson fails to act now it would be like seeing a house on fire, promising to fetch help - and then walking away. He cannot talk big on the international stage and fail to act at home. It will be a disaster for the planet and it It is clear from this polling that the UK public will not forgive him."

Some countries have taken a different approach to the UK, with France work in on ban in domestic aviation where a rail alternative is under two hours. German ministers have also debated the possibility of banning domestic flights, a policy championed by the Greens – who are about to enter coalition government.

EU Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans said in May that he supported "taxing kerosene like other fuels" and that "nobody has to fly 10 or 12 times a year".

A Treasury spokesperson meanwhile defended the UK government's move to make domestic flights cheaper and said it would would "boost" regional airports. The spokesperson noted that there had been a rise on air passenger duty for the longest flights.

“In line with our environmental objectives, the Budget introduced a new ultra-long haul distance band for Air Passenger Duty - increasing tax on the most polluting flights," they told The Independent.

"Our new lower domestic band will provide a boost to over nine million passengers, our regional airports, and the jobs they support in local communities.

“We are also investing over £35 billion in rail across England and Wales over the Spending Review period - including High Speed Two, rail enhancements and vital renewals to improve passenger journeys and connectivity across the country.”

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