Passenger groups protest over planned rises that will result in some season tickets costing £1,000 more in 2015 than in 2011
The cost of train travel will be even higher than expected next year with fares set to rise by 6.2% in January.
Passenger groups and unions have stepped up pressure over train fares by staging a day of action, as the government hinted it may back down over planned rises that would result in some season tickets costing £1,000 more in 2015 than in 2011.
Fares will rise on 1 January 2013 by three percentage points above the July RPI figure announced on Tuesday. A surprise rise in inflation to 3.2% means train fares will increase by 6.2% on average. Passenger groups said fares were going up far faster than salaries and risked pricing ordinary people off the railways. With train operators allowed to raise some fares by an additional 5%, some commuters could be paying 11.2% more for their tickets next year.
The transport secretary, Justine Greening, said on Monday she would ask for government money to keep fares down.
There is also pressure within the coalition to limit price rises. Julian Huppert MP and Lord Bradshaw, co-chairs of the Liberal Democrat transport committee, have warned Greening that Lib Dems would not support these fare rises on what was already the most expensive railway in Europe.
Huppert said: “People are struggling to make ends meet against a backdrop of wage freezes and rising utility bills. George Osborne has to realise that people cannot be expected to pay huge rises in rail fares on top.”
Maria Eagle, the shadow transport secretary, said: “David Cameron’s decision to side with the powerful private train operators against commuters and passengers shows he is desperately out of touch with the cost-of-living crisis facing many hard-working families.”
She said Labour would enforce a strict cap of 1% above inflation across all routes.
Demonstrations were taking place on Tuesday at Waterloo in London and dozens of other stations around the country, organised by the TUC-backed Action for Rail campaign.
Protesters at Waterloo leafleted passengers and carried a huge banner reading: “Cut rail fares, not rail staff.”
Stephen Joseph of the Campaign for Better Transport said: “This higher-than-expected inflation figure means that rail fares will rise by more than 6% if the government proceeds with its policy. There will be even more pressure on the government to reverse its policy, and bring fares down.”
He said that postponing the fuel duty increase on cars showed the government knew they could not continue to hit commuters. But he pointed out that many in the south-east of England routinely spent up to 15% of their salary getting to work in London, and warned that the price of an annual season ticket from many towns – including Brighton, Oxford, Luton and Reading – would rise by more than £1,000 between 2011 and 2015.
Elsewhere, a season ticket for rail travel between Liverpool and Manchester would see an annual increase of over £160, and between Leicester and Derby would go up by £120.
The TSSA union has highlighted several commuter towns where season tickets to the capital will cost more than £5,000 a year.
Malcolm Shepherd, chief executive of cycling group Sustrans, said: “With rail fares rising so much faster than inflation and salaries, more of us are going to feel forced into using a car to get around, adding to congestion and pollution in our cities. The government saved drivers over £500m by postponing the fuel duty increase set for August. That money could make a huge difference in keeping fares down.”
The RMT general secretary, Bob Crow, said: “This is the ConDem government handing out a massive kicking to commuters and is pure electoral suicide. The fare increase tied to these figures represents a massive blow to the travelling public as they see fares rocket by over 6% in January at a time when household budgets are hit by the government’s austerity programmes.”
He warned the money would not be invested back in services but “trousered by the greedy train operators as another windfall profit”.
Simon Weller, national officer of the train drivers’ union Aslef, said: “Enough is enough. Rail fares are constantly going up. We should stop subsidising private shareholders.”
However, train operating companies maintained they would not benefit from the additional rise in regulated fares, as payments they make or receive under the terms of their franchises are adjusted.
Michael Roberts, the chief executive of the Association of Train Operating Companies, said: “The government decides the average increase of commuter ticket prices and other regulated fares which train companies will be required to introduce. Any flexibility train companies have within the rules is to maximise revenue for the government.”
In Scotland, fares will rise by RPI plus 1%, while Wales has yet to set a figure. The RPI figure was significantly higher than expected, with most in the City predicting a 2.8% increase. The soaring cost of air travel will ultimately be a small factor in increased rail fares, as the ONS said plane tickets pushed the inflation index higher.
A similar rise planned for January 2012 was modified to one percentage point above inflation in George Osborne’s autumn statement, but at the time he restated increases scheduled for 2013.
But Greening said there could be another U-turn by the Treasury this autumn if there was “spare money”. She added: “I am keen to see what we can do to keep fares down to something affordable.”
She said she was hopeful money would be made available. “If you don’t ask, you don’t get, so I’ll make sure I’ll ask.”
While Greening pledged in March to “end the era of inflation-busting fare rises”, the government also wants to see the taxpayer subsidy cut and passengers pay a higher proportion of rail costs.
Last year, the DfT-commissioned McNulty report on value for money in the rail industry said substantial efficiency savings could be made, and Greening has set a target of spending cuts of £3.5bn a year by 2019.
However, unions say McNulty’s proposals will mean train operators shedding thousands of station staff, guards, catering staff and closing ticket offices.
The rail minister, Theresa Villiers, defended the rises, saying: “We are determined to drive down the cost of running the railways so we can put an end to above-inflation fare increases in the future. Our reforms aim to deliver £3.5bn in efficiency savings while continuing to expand services. That is the most effective way to respond to passenger concerns about fare levels.”