Rail fares to rise by average of 3.5% in January
Campaigners demand curbs on above-inflation fare increases, as ticket prices rise nearly four times faster than wages.
Rail fares will rise by an average of 3.5% in January, with some increasing by up to 5.5%, adding hundreds of pounds to the cost of commuters’ season tickets.
Calls for the government to curb planned rises intensified as Labour said it would cap fares on every route and indicated it was considering an election pledge to cap increases at the rate of inflation.
Protests took place at stations across the country as campaigners pointed out that ticket prices have risen nearly four times as fast as wages. The 2015 rise will mean fares have gone up by a quarter since the coalition government took power.
The increase will be more than double the 1.6% current rate of inflation as measured on the consumer price index. Train fares regulated by the government – including off-peak and season tickets – are pegged at 1% above July’s retail prices index (RPI) figure, published on Tuesday, of 2.5%.
While fares are capped at an average of RPI+1%, train operators are allowed the flexibility to raise fares on some routes by an additional 2%. That “flex” rule means certain fares could rise by up to 5.5% – adding more than £300 to the cost of annual season tickets on the most expensive commutes.
According to the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT), an annual season ticket for a commuter from Brighton to London would rise by £151 a year and by £159 a year from Cambridge to London. An annual season ticket between Liverpool and Manchester would rise by £101.
Train fares will have risen almost 25% in the current parliament but average wages have risen just 6.9%, the CBT said.
Martin Abrams of CBT said: “By deliberately ramping up rail fares, the government is hitting the living standards of everyone who relies on the train to get to work.”
The shadow transport secretary, Mary Creagh, said Labour was considering a pledge to limit fare rises to inflation – although the party is reluctant to make spending commitments before the election. Creagh warned fares could rise by a further 24% by 2018 under Tory plans. She said: “Once again David Cameron has failed hard-pressed commuters by allowing regulated rail fares to rise. Labour will act on rail fares to help tackle the cost-of-living crisis.”
Creagh said Labour would cap annual fares on every route by abolishing the flex, and further ease the financial pressure on passengers by passing on savings from a planned package of railway reforms, which she described as the most radical since privatisation. These include allowing public sector companies to run lines and devolving more power to local authorities and passengers.
Last year the government cut the train operators’ flexibility to an additional 2% rather than 5%. Fares rose above inflation under the flex rule on two of the 20 busiest commuter routes last year.
George Osborne limited overall rises for 2014 to RPI rather than the planned RPI+1% – the first time in a decade that fares kept to inflation – and campaigners called on the chancellor to review fares again in this year’s autumn statement.
Transport minister Claire Perry said the coalition was delivering “a laser-like focus” on reducing the cost of living. She said there was record investment in the railways and 45% of tickets bought were cheaper advance fares: “People don’t just rock up to the station and pay the maximum amount.”
Labour has pledged to create a legal right for passengers to be sold the cheapest available ticket. Rail regulators have previously warned that passengers often pay more than they should.
The transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, accused Labour of trying to rewrite its record. He said: “The last Labour government oversaw year after year of inflation-busting fare rises.” McLoughlin said abolishing the flex would cost £100m.
The TUC and rail unions’ Action for Rail campaign marked Tuesday’s inflation figures with protests at more than 40 train stations across the country.
The TUC’s general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “Today’s figures also lay bare the government’s hypocrisy in using different measures of inflation – one to hammer rail commuters and another to reduce the value of the state pension, child benefit and other social security support that families desperately need.”
Mick Cash, RMT acting general secretary of the RMT rail union, said: “People will simply be priced off the railways while the greedy train operating companies are laughing all the way to the bank.”
Michael Roberts, director general of industry body the Rail Delivery Group, said: “Money from fares pays for more trains, better stations and faster services on what is already Europe’s fastest growing, safest and most improved railway.
- The Guardian,