Commuters protest for being ‘fleeced’ by steep rail fare hikes
Protests are taking place at rail stations around the country today (3 January) as the latest hike in rail fares comes into effect.
Three campaign groups – Action for Rail, We Own It and Bring Back British Rail – are leading major protests at London King’s Cross and Manchester Piccadilly, with other demonstrations taking place at over 100 stations, to call for a return to a nationalised railway.
Regulated fares such as season tickets will rise by 1.9%, and the overall increase is 2.3% on average. Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) calculated that popular commutes now cost as much as 27p per minute.
Lianna Etkind, CBT’s public transport campaigner, said: “Wages remain stagnant and trains continue to be hopelessly overcrowded, so commuters are rightly angry at annual fare rises when they see little or no improvement in the service they receive.
“Many commuters are now being charged at a similar level to a premium rate phone number for their season tickets and are left feeling equally as fleeced.”
The journey from Stevenage to London is the most expensive commute in England, costing 27p a minute, followed by Ashford International/Reading to London, Bath Spa to Bristol and Milton Keynes to London.
Etkind called for the government to introduce “a fairer ticketing system” that didn’t “penalise people for choosing to take the train”.
Separately, research by Action for Rail showed that rail fares have increased by 56% since 2006, over twice the increase in average wages and inflation.
This means that travellers from Luton to London now spend 14% of their earnings on a monthly season ticket, while travellers from Liverpool to Manchester spend 11%. Similar commutes in France cost 2% of monthly earnings, whereas in Germany and Italy they cost 3%.
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said: “Years of failed privatisation have left us with sky-high ticket prices, overcrowded trains, understaffed services and out-of-date infrastructure.”
Rail unions Aslef, RMT and TSSA backed the protests. Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef, said: “We have the most expensive railway in Europe and the train companies, aided and abetted by this government, are about to make it even more costly for people to travel.”
Aslef and RMT will lead a drivers’ strike on Southern Rail from 9 to 14 January as part of an ongoing industrial dispute over plans to remove the power of guards to operate train doors.
Mick Cash, general secretary of RMT, accused Southern and other rail companies of “laughing all the way to the bank”.
Andy McDonald, the shadow transport secretary, said that season ticket costs have increased by over £2,000 since the 2010 coalition government.
“Passengers were always told that higher fares were necessary to fund investment, but vital projects have been delayed by years and essential maintenance works have been put on hold,” he added. The latest major rail project to be delayed is electrification of the Great Western Main Line, which Bristol MP Karin Smyth said would have “devastating effects”.
Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators and Network Rail, said: “Nobody wants to pay more to travel to work and at the moment in some places people aren’t getting the service they are paying for.”
However, he argued that the government was responsible for setting the increases to season tickets. But Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, insisted that regulated fares were growing faster than wages and the cap on regulated fares would save annual season ticket holders an average of £425 by 2020.
(Image: TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes, Labour MP Emily Thornberry and shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald at King’s Cross Station this morning. Credit: John Stillwell from PA Wire and PA Images.)
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