Rail fare rise 'kick in the teeth'


Rail protestRail users face another "massive" increase of around 4.1% in fares in the new year after new inflation figures signalled more "misery" for passengers.

RPI inflation rose by 3.1% in the year to July, down from 3.3% last month, but regulated fares are set to rise by an extra 1% when the new prices are announced from January.

Unions and campaigners staged a series of protests at stations across the country to highlight the increase, which will be well above average rises in earnings.

Rail Maritime and Transport union leader Bob Crow said: "This latest inflation-busting hike in fares is a kick in the teeth for the British people who are condemned for another year to pay the highest prices in Europe to travel on clapped-out, overcrowded and unreliable trains while the private operators are laughing all the way to the bank.

"Anyone who thinks that this massive fares surcharge will be invested in our railways needs their head examined.

"This cash windfall will be siphoned straight into the pockets of the private train companies without touching the sides. The stone-cold case for public ownership of our railways to end this racketeering is now overwhelming."

The Transport Salaried Staffs Association held a demonstration outside the Transport Department in London, unfurling banners accusing Lib Dem Transport Minister Norman Baker of "betraying" rail passengers.

General secretary Manuel Cortes handed in a letter urging the minister to set a deadline for ending the annual inflation-plus fares rise.

He said: "What we want is an end to these crippling year-in, year-out rail fare rises, starting in 2015 with a new formula, RPI minus 1%.

"We already have the highest rail fares in Europe and we want a firm commitment from the minister to scrap the present formula of RPI plus 1%."

Mr Cortes said in his letter to the minister: "The latest RPI increase means that rail fares have now been increased 20% by the coalition since May 2010.

"That shocking rise, when real wages have fallen by 5.5% during the same period, is made much worse by the fact that the Lib Dems went into that election pledging in their manifesto to cut rail fares, changing the rules in contracts with train operating companies so that regulated fares fall behind inflation by 1% each year, meaning a real-terms cut."

Next January's rise will be the sixth time in seven years that rail fares have outstripped wages, said campaigners.

Between 2008 and next January rail fares will have jumped by 40%, compared with a 15% increase in average earnings, it is claimed.

The TUC and the Action for Rail campaign group staged a series of demonstrations at almost 50 stations, warning that some season tickets could rise by 9%, against forecasts of a 2.4% increase in average earnings next year.

The union organisation said rail privatisation was costing taxpayers £1.2 billion a year despite "minimal" investment in trains and stations.

TUC leader Frances O'Grady said: "Despite the small fall in inflation, most rail season tickets will still go up by a wage-busting 4.1% next year.

"This is good news for rail operators, who'll use increased fares to line the pockets of shareholders, but bad news for hard-pressed commuters who are having to hand over even more of their pay packets for poor-quality services."

Unite national officer Julia Long said: "The current system of privately-owned operators is haemorrhaging enough cash each year to cut fares by at least 18%, without reducing staff or services. Yet every year we see fares soar way beyond the inflation rate."

Campaign for Better Transport published research showing that rail fares are increasing nearly twice as fast as incomes, outstripping increases in wages by nearly 14% since 2007.

Chief executive Stephen Joseph said: "Getting to work is now the biggest single monthly outgoing for many commuters - more than food, more than housing.

"One of the surest ways of stamping on any green shoots of recovery is to price people off the trains and out of the jobs market.

"For the sake of the economy, we should end above-inflation fare increases now and start planning for fare reductions."

David Sidebottom, passenger director of rail customer watchdog Passenger Focus, said: "Passengers will shrug wearily at the news that regulated fares in England are set to rise.

"Now passengers are the main funders of the railway, it is crucial that, in return for this rise, more trains arrive on time, investment in future improvements continues and the basic promises the industry make are delivered."

The 4.1% rise on regulated fares, which include season tickets, is an average figure, with each train company able to put fares up above this figure on some routes as long as all its regulated fares average 4.1%.

If a 4.1% fare rise is applied, for example, to some Kent commuter routes, it will mean the price of a 12-month season ticket from Deal, from Canterbury and from Ramsgate to London will rise above £5,000 from January.

Similarly, the cost of a season ticket from Basingstoke in Hampshire will breach the £4,000 mark.
Michael Roberts, chief executive of the Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc), said: "Since 2004, it has been Government policy to allow regulated fares to rise above inflation in order to support investment in more trains, better stations and faster services.

"This is helping to drive passenger satisfaction to near-record levels while seeking to reduce taxpayers' contribution towards the cost of running the railways.

"In order to help limit future fare rises, the rail industry is working with the Government to find ways of providing services even more efficiently, building on the progress that has already been made."

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said nobody liked paying more for fares but the Government was investing heavily in the railways.

Speaking from Nottingham station, where £130 million-worth of work is going on, Mr McLoughlin told BBC1's Breakfast programme that taxpayers contributed huge amounts to the running of the railways and passengers had to make contributions, both as rail travellers and as taxpayers.

He said: "Running the railways is a very expensive business. The taxpayer overall is contributing a lot and I am afraid that the passenger has to make his contribution. He does it as a taxpayer and as a passenger as well."

Mr McLoughlin said he hoped above-inflation rises would end by 2015 in line with the Office of Budget Responsibility's estimates.

He said around £8 billion was raised by ticket sales and £4 billion by taxpayers for the UK's rail services.

He also told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme there was a "huge renaissance" on the railways, with annual passenger journey numbers increasing from 750 million to 1.5 billion.

Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy warned that rail passengers will struggle to meet living costs, adding: "People who are paying to commute by train every day face a toxic mix of high house and rent prices, low wages, high rail fares and a lack of choice.

"Ministers must recognise that for millions of people, even the smallest increase in regulated rail fares makes a massive dent in household budgets.

"For millions of people, train travel is not an optional extra but is vital to their everyday lives.
"This latest big increase will add insult to injury for people who have been forced to move out of big cities like London as a result of expensive housing costs.

"For people living in rural communities, infrequent bus services and sky-high petrol prices mean train travel is often the only affordable and reliable form of transport."

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