PASSENGERS and campaigners have responded with anger and dismay to yet another hike in rail fares that in some cases – such as the journey between Glasgow and Edinburgh – could see annual season tickets rise by more than £100.
The RMT union denounced the fares rise as a “kick in the teeth” for rail users while Labour said the Conservative Government “continues to fail long-suffering rail passengers” and reaffirmed its commitment to renationalise the railways if it got into power.
The rise in season ticket costs is linked to July’s rate of Retail Prices Index[RPI] inflation, which was announced by the Office for National Statistics as being 2.8 per cent.
Rail campaign groups warned commuters would “refuse to pay” if season ticket prices continued to be hiked.
They also called for the lower Consumer Prices Index measure of inflation, now at 2.1 per cent, to be used to set fare increases, which will be implemented from January 2 2020.
The UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments regulate rises in around half of fares, including season tickets on most commuter routes, some off-peak return tickets on long-distance journeys and tickets for travel around major cities at any time.
A cap on how much they can be increased is pegged to the July RPI figure, except for off-peak fares in Scotland, which are pegged at RPI minus one per cent.
Rail regulator, the Office of Rail and Road, pointed out how regulated fares went up by an average of 2.8 per cent in January 2019 following the July 2018 RPI figure of 3.2 per cent.
If a full 2.8 per cent rise in season ticket prices were implemented from January, then this would lead to an increase of more than £100 in the annual cost of getting to work for many commuters.
Examples of potential season ticket increases include:
*Edinburgh to Glasgow – up £114 to £4,198;
*Brighton to London – up £125 to £4,581;
*Gloucester to Birmingham – up £119 to £4,357;
*Barrow-in-Furness to Preston – up £117 to £4,285;
*Tweedbank to Edinburgh – up £79 to £2,899 and
*Stonehaven to Aberdeen – up £39 to £1,427.
Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, said of the latest fares rise: “I’m not delighted by it, to be perfectly honest, as a train commuter.
“The truth is we do now have a situation where average wages are going up faster than inflation, so if you don’t keep this tracking with inflation you are actually effectively putting less money into transport and less money into trains and you won’t get them running on time doing that either.”
But his Labour shadow Andy McDonald said: “Every year commuters are being asked to pay more money for bad train services.
“The Government has sat back and allowed private train companies to cash in while people’s pay has been held back. Continuous fare rises undermine urgent action to tackle the climate emergency by pricing people off the railways.”
He added: “Labour will bring our railways into public ownership so they are run in the interests of passengers, not private profit.”
Mick Cash, the General Secretary of the RMT, was equally indignant. “Yet another rail fare hike is a kick in the teeth for the UK’s rail passengers, who are already paying over the odds to travel on overcrowded, clapped out and unreliable trains. This is just corporate welfare for the greedy train companies on an industrial scale.”
He argued that with the “colossal sums” being bled out of the railways by private companies, including the £1.2 billion “ripped-off by the rolling stock outfits as exposed by RMT,” it was crystal clear that a return to public ownership would free up the funds needed to both hold down fares and invest in services.
“The private rail racket has left Britain’s passengers paying the highest fares in Europe to travel on clapped out and unreliable services. It is time for it to end,” he added.
His trade union colleague Manuel Cortes, who leads the TSSA, declared: “We must end this rail rip-off fiasco. Passengers aren’t stupid.
“They know that they’re paying more and getting less, year on year. Now that the Tories appear to have found the magic money tree, they should give it one more shake to give our hard-pressed rail passengers a break by implementing a fares’ freeze in 2020.”
Research by passenger watchdog Transport Focus shows fewer than a third [30 per cent] of rail commuters are satisfied with the value for money of their ticket.
David Sidebottom, its director, said:” Transport Focus believes it’s time for a fairer, clearer fares formula based on calculations that use the Consumer Prices Index, rather than the discredited Retail Price Index.
“After recent disruption and a lot of misery over last winter, rail operators still have a great deal to improve.”
Bruce Williamson, spokesman for campaign group Railfuture, noted: “It might be that we’ve now reached the point where we cannot simply put fares up and expect passengers to take the hit.
“They will just give up and refuse to pay. They will either find either another job or another form of transport.”
Rail passengers, asked about the latest hike, responded with dismay.
James Ellis, 28, who travels regularly from the East Sussex town of Hastings to Leeds, and also uses the Northern train service to visit friends and family, said the current service on trains was “absolutely obscene” and called for renationalisation.
James Reid, a 58-year-old photographer, who often travels to London from Edinburgh, said he paid roughly £12,000 per year for “badly organised” trains.
“I don’t commute on a season ticket but I use the rail service across the country and it’s becoming incredibly expensive. Two point eight per cent [on top of]quite a lot of money already. Per year, I don’t get much change out of £12,000 on fares.”
Describing the east coast-line service, he added: “Overcrowding, an immense amount of train failure; it’s pretty badly organised really.
“It looks to me as if they’re more interested in maxing out trains to be full, which I can get from a commercial point of view, but the problem is the customer is like a second-rate something or other.”