Train fares: UK rail passengers face biggest rise for five years

Union says announcement that average ticket prices will increase by 3.4% in January is ‘another kick in the teeth’

 From “The Guardian”


 UK rail fares will rise by 3.4% on January 2 – the largest increase for five years, train companies have announced.

Fares for all journeys in 2018 have been published, showing an average rise slightly below the 3.6% set by the government in August for regulated fares, which include season tickets.

However, passengers in the north of England will see average fares rise even faster. Northern, run by Arriva, is putting up prices overall by 4.7%, while TransPennine Express fares will rise by 4.6%.

Rail operators said the national figure showed that the industry was attempting to keep down the cost of travel.

Unions said it was “another kick in the teeth” for passengers paying the highest fares in Europe.

Paul Plummer, the chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, which speaks for the train companies and Network Rail, said: “Alongside investment from the public and private sectors, money from fares is underpinning the partnership railway’s long-term plan to change and improve.”

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Obviously we’re very aware of the pressures on people and the state of the economy.” He said it was “a significant increase”, but said regulated fares were set by government and that influenced all fares.

Last year, overall fares were driven up by a steep rise on Virgin Trains East Coast, which has been bailed out by the government, with an early end to the contract in 2020 potentially costing the taxpayer more than £1bn – a decision branded “inexplicable” by the former transport secretary Lord Adonis.

 Asked if it showed private companies were taking any risk, Plummer said: “Rail companies operate under contract and they honour the terms of their contracts and they provide for things to happen in different circumstances.

“That operator will continue to make payments until 2020 and then the new operator will continue to make payments and so I don’t recognise the way that has been described.”

The RDG said private sector investment would help deliver improvements, including 5,700 new train carriages by 2021.

The fare rise, which is shaped by the retail price index (RPI) inflation figure, will be the biggest since January 2013, when fares rose by 3.9%.

Adonis said Brexit had pushed up rail fares, by weakening the pound and increasing inflation. He said: “Commuters are feeling the Brexit squeeze already, as the rise in inflation has pushed up rail fares in their highest increase for five years.

“There is no doubting the impact of the plunge in the value of the pound after the Brexit vote on people’s spending power.

“Nobody voted to pay more just to get to work. As the Brexit squeeze continues to hit families in the pocket, the British people have the right to keep an open mind about whether leaving the EU is really the best future for our country.”

The RMT union general secretary, Mick Cash, said: “These fare increases are another kick in the teeth for British passengers who will still be left paying the highest fares in Europe to travel on rammed-out, unreliable trains where private profit comes before public safety.

“For public sector workers and many others in our communities who have had their pay and benefits capped or frozen by this government these fare increases are another twist of the economic knife while the ‎private train companies are laughing all the way to the bank.”

The fare rise, which is shaped by the retail price index (RPI) inflation figure, will be the biggest since January 2013, when fares rose by 3.9%.

The independent watchdog Transport Focus said the fare increases would be a “chill wind” for passengers. Chief executive Anthony Smith said: “Many passengers face stagnant or falling incomes while rail fares continue to climb. It is time that the fairer, clearer Consumer prices index formula is used as the basis for rail fare rises rather than the increasingly outmoded RPI.”

“While substantial, welcome investment in new trains and improved track and signals is continuing, passengers are still seeing the basic promises made by the rail industry broken on too many days. Passengers’ immediate priorities are clear: a more reliable railway, better handling of disruption and better value for money.”

Fares have been frozen on London transport except for rail services, where fares are set by government and private operators. The mayor, Sadiq Khan, said the price hike would infuriate Londoners: “People are rightly fed up. If I can take action with TfL and freeze fares while improving services, so should the government. It is about time the government stood up to these underperforming private rail companies.”

Fares fair?

Regulated fares such as season tickets and long-distance, off-peak standard returns are capped at RPI inflation by the government – the 3.6% announced in August. Other fares, including advance fares, can be raised or dropped at the train operators’ discretion. Tuesday’s announcement of an overall 3.4% rise includes all fare types.