Call for end to big rail fare hikes
Campaigners have urged an end to above-inflation rail fare rises amid widespread anger at continuing increases.
The call came as it was claimed that some season ticket holders have seen their fares rise by more than 50% in the last 10 years. And the TUC said average train fares have risen nearly three times faster than average wages since the beginning of the recession in 2008. The figures emerged as annual fare rises take effect on the railways on Wednesday, with the average season ticket increase being 4.3% and the overall rise for all tickets 3.9%.
The Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) said its research showed that in the last decade London commuters have seen: average season ticket costs increase by £1,300; fares grow 20% faster than wages, and average costs in real terms increasing by £360.
It added that in the last 10 years rail fares had gone up substantially in all parts of England but that there were significant differences between routes over that period: annual fares from Ashford International in Kent to London have risen by more than £2,000 and fares from Sevenoaks in Kent to London have increased by nearly 90%, from £1,660 to £3,112. In contrast, fares from Stevenage in Hertfordshire to London have risen by £772 - an increase of 30%, but below the increase generated by inflation alone.
CBT chief executive Stephen Joseph said: "The impact of successive governments' policies on rail fares is appalling. It's truly shocking that we have deliberately made getting the train to work an extravagance that many struggle to afford. The time has come not just to stop the rises but to reduce fares." CBT has launched a petition calling on the Government to name a date to end the above-inflation formula used for determining the annual rise and commit to reducing fares relative to inflation.
TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "At a time when real wages are falling and household budgets are being squeezed, rail travellers are being forced to endure yet another year of inflation-busting fare increases. As well as having to shell out record amounts of money for their tickets, passengers also face the prospect of travelling on trains with fewer staff and having less access to ticket offices. They are being asked to pay much more for less."
Michael Roberts, chief executive of the Association of Train Operating Companies, blamed the Government, saying: "Successive governments have required train companies to increase the average price of season tickets every January since 2004 by more than inflation. Ministers want passengers to pay a larger share of railway running costs to reduce the contribution from taxpayers while sustaining investment in better stations, new trains and faster services."
But Transport Minister Norman Baker said the Government had intervened to reduce the scale of the rises. He said: "Family budgets are being squeezed, so that is why this coalition Government has taken proactive steps to cut the planned fare rises from 3% to 1% above inflation until 2014." He continued: "We are engaged in the biggest rail investment programme since the 19th century and it is only right that the passenger, as well as the taxpayer, contributes towards that."
Labour said it would impose a "strict" cap on future rises, accusing Prime Minister David Cameron of misleading commuters with a promise to limit them.
The Government had intended to allow train companies to raise the average price of regulated fares - which include season tickets - by RPI inflation plus 3% this and next January. Mr Cameron announced in October that it would instead be limited to RPI plus 1% - a 4.2% rise - but Labour said that was undermined by reinstating flexibility for firms to raise non-regulated fares.