Transport secretary Chris Grayling blames unions for ‘disgraceful’ 3.1% rail fares increase

Transport secretary Chris Grayling has blamed unions for the annual price hike in rail fares.

The cost of rail travel in England and Wales increased by an average of 3.1% and almost 3% in Scotland – despite punctuality being at a 13-year low.

The cost of many rail season tickets rose by more than £100 due to the annual price hike on Wednesday.

A rail campaign group described the latest fares rise as "another kick in the wallet" for passengers.

Mr Grayling said the government had made a "record investment" in rail travel, and laid the blame for the price hike at the feet of transport unions.

"The reality is the fare increases are higher than they should be because the unions demand – with threats of national strikes, but they don't get them – higher pay rises than anybody else," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"Typical pay rises are more than 3% and that's what drives the increases. These are the same unions that fund that Labour party."

But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn blamed the government for the increases, which he branded a "disgrace".

Before joining a protest against the hike at King's Cross St Pancras in London, he said the rail network should work in the interests of everybody "not just the profits of the few".

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Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said passengers were right to be "furious" about rail fare increases.

Speaking on the Today programme, he said: "Year after year passengers are told these rises are there to improve services, but what do we see?

"Utter chaos, overcrowded trains – they are, quite rightly, furious about the continuing hikes in rail fares.

"The real experience, not the promises, is, quite frankly, just scandalous."

The rail industry insists the "vast majority" of revenue from fares covers the day-to-day costs of running the railway.

One in seven trains were delayed by at least five minutes in the past 12 months as a series of major issues have plagued the railway.

According to Press Association analysis of historical data, this was the worst performance since September 2005. Extreme weather, errors in the launch of new timetables, strikes and signalling failures are among the causes.

The 3.1% average fare rise is the second highest since January 2013.

Examples of increases in annual season tickets include £148 for Brighton to London (from £4,696 to £4,844), £130 for Gloucester to Birmingham (from £4,108 to £4,238), and £100 for Manchester to Liverpool (from £3,152 to £3,252).

The annual cost from prime minister Theresa May's constituency of Maidenhead to London has increased by £96 (from £3,092 to £3,188).

Robert Nisbet, regional director of industry body the Rail Delivery Group, acknowledged "nobody wants to pay more for their journey to work" but insisted money from fares is being used to "build the better railway customers want".

Mr Grayling said a new railcard to extend child fares to 16 and 17 year olds will be available in time for the new academic year in September. A railcard for 26-30 year olds goes on general sale at noon on Wednesday.

Mr Grayling claimed the Government's "record investment" in the rail network will help passengers get the "frequent, affordable and reliable journeys they deserve".

Labour analysis of more than 180 routes suggests an average commuter is paying £2,980 for their annual season ticket, up £786 from 2010, which was the year the Conservatives came to power as part of a coalition government.

The research also indicates that fares have risen nearly three times faster than wages.

Labour has pledged to return the railways to public ownership and called for prices to be frozen on the worst performing routes.

Rail union leaders, politicians and campaigners protested against the increasing cost of rail travel outside stations across the country.

Rail, Maritime and Transport union general secretary Mick Cash said fare payers are being "battered by the toxic combination of gross mismanagement and profiteering".

Fewer than half (45%) of passengers are satisfied with the value for money of train tickets, according to a survey by watchdog Transport Focus.

Its chief executive Anthony Smith said "the rail industry cannot be short of funding" as passengers contribute £10 billion a year in fares.

He added: "When will this translate into more reliable services that are better value for money?"

Bruce Williamson, from campaign group Railfuture said: "After a terrible year of timetable chaos, passengers are being rewarded with yet another kick in the wallet."

- This article first appeared on Yahoo

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