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Critics slam ‘staggering’ 3.4% rail fare hike as it comes into force

Railway stations across England have become the backdrop to protests today as the highest rail fare increase in five years comes into force.

The 3.4% raise, announced last year, has prompted anger from unions and the Opposition, which described the hike as “staggering” and argued the government was making rail travel unaffordable for many people.

Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, reaffirmed his promise that 97% of the money collected by operators would be spent on improvements and the operation of the railways.

But Anthony Smith, chief executive of watchdog Transport Focus, said the TOCs and the government should work to solve the problems with the rail network if they are going to implement a price increase.

“As many passengers return from their festive break, rail fare rises will bite as wages continue to stagnate,” he explained.

“Passengers will want to see renewed focus on the basics: a more reliable service, more chance of getting a seat or at least standing in comfort and better information when things go wrong. While welcome investment is being made in the railway, passengers need to be able to rely on the trains today.”

Smith went on to call for better-value tickets and an improved compensation system for when things go wrong, in order to give passengers a more simple and accessible way to claim back money.

Figures released today by the Labour Party suggest the average commuter will be paying £694 more for their season ticket today than they did in 2010, with some routes seeing rises as high as £2,500.

Andy McDonald, the shadow transport secretary, said: “Commuters have repeatedly been told that higher fares are necessary to fund investment, but promised investment has been cancelled and essential works have been delayed by years.

“Decisions taken by government ministers are making rail travel unaffordable for the many in favour of huge profits for the few. The truth is that our fragmented, privatised railway drives up costs and leaves passengers paying more for less.”

In response to the backlash, Plummer commented: “Working together in partnership across the industry and with government our long-term plan to improve will secure £85bn of additional economic benefits while enabling further investment and improvement for customers, communities and our people.

“Over the next 18 months alone the country will see an unprecedented transformation in rail services, including dramatic improvements across the Thameslink network and through the Great North Rail Project.”

The final price surge figure is lower than the initial ONS projection of 3.6%, but operators were still condemned by Transport Focus for using the higher retail price index to calculate rises.

The increases have also drawn the ire of the RMT union, which claims increasing fares will only benefit the profits of private companies rather than improving the rail network.

Mick Cash, the organisation’s general secretary, commented: “Passengers are actually paying more and more for less and less. More fare increases and more profit for less train guards and staff and less reliable services.

“Our members will be protesting today to say it is time to cut our fares not our staff and for a publicly owned railway where every penny of passenger revenue goes to improving services.”

Privatisation of the railway remains the single most divisive issue in the industry. Last year transport secretary Chris Grayling announced that both the new South Eastern franchise and the Virgin East Coast franchise – scheduled to end early in 2020 – would see a new model of rail operation, bringing ‘track and train’ closer together by giving private firms more infrastructure powers.

The new system will see TOCs and Network Rail come together under a single director responsible for both infrastructure and operations across the franchise.

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John Grant   03/01/2018 at 15:24

Fares going to "profits of private companies", not to RMT members, then? One reason passengers are getting less and less is that staff keep going on strike.

Steve B Collins   04/01/2018 at 12:53

It is interesting how Cri ds Grayling has said that he would be willing to switch from RPI- to CPI-based increases but he "cannot" because the unions are insisting on pay rises linked to RPI. I put cannot in quotes because the government could find other ways of overcoming this.

Danny   05/01/2018 at 09:22

Interesting that Mike Cash is talking about “Passengers are actually paying more and more for less and less. More fare increases and more profit for less train guards and staff and less reliable services" You never hear him talk about the fact that the fare rises are needed to pay the wages of the RMT members, which go up faster than the average wage in the UK...

Jerry Alderson   05/01/2018 at 17:20

I strongly support switching fare increases to CPI. Just because the government cannot resolve an issue with the unions is no excuse for punishing passengers. Those arguing for renationalisation (and implicitly re-integration) mention the savings that it would deliver (definitely some from re-integration and dividend abolition, it must be accepted - although apparently always without any negative consequences) and how these *could* be used to reduce fares. Firstly, any saving is a one-off. Unless you solve the problem of costs going up faster than inflation - and pay is a key contributor, as Danny, mentions, though new technology is as well - then you soon get back to square one. Moreover, the idea that fares would be reduced is fanciful in my view. The government faces more criticism over the perceived state of the NHS than rail fares and the EU referendum shows that £350m a week more for the NHS would be a popular move. Does anyone really believe that *any* government would reduce fares (many for well-off people with good jobs) rather than spend it on the NHS?

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