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Government under fire as rail fares set to rise by 1.9% next year

Rail fares have increased at double the speed of wages since 2010, trade unions have warned as the Office of National Statistics (ONS) confirmed next year’s regulated rail fares will go up by 1.9% – significantly above this year’s 1% increase.

Analysis by the TUC and rail unions’ Action for Rail campaign showed fares have risen by 25% in the last six years, despite average weekly wages only growing by 12%. As fares rise, dividends paid to shareholders of private train companies have risen by 21% in the last year to £222m, the unions said.

Frances O’Grady, TUC’s general secretary, said: “Rail passengers are paying more and getting even less. Fares go up while trains remain overcrowded, stations are unstaffed, and rail companies cut the guards who ensure journeys run smoothly and safely.

“Enough is enough. It’s time for rail services to be publicly owned, saving money for passengers and taxpayers alike. Instead of increasing fares and cutting staff, we should be building an accessible, reliable train service that Britain can be proud of.”

The general secretaries of RMT, Aslef and TSSA also harshly criticised the figures, with the latter’s leader Manuel Cortes claiming the UK’s fares are already the highest in Europe.

Unite’s national officer for the rail industry, Tony Murphy, added: “Supporters of privatisation have long-promised a European-style rail system, which is more reliable and modern.

“This promise has proven to be a mirage and commuters are paying for it, despite the fact that many have not received a decent pay rise in years.”

The unions’ criticisms came shortly before July’s Retail Price Index (RPI) measure of inflation was confirmed by the ONS this morning. Currently, around half of fares are regulated, including season tickets and some off-peak return tickets on long-distance journeys.

As a result, today’s figure also prompted fresh calls for introducing flexible part-time season tickets to help part-time workers “as a matter of urgency”.

James MacColl, head of campaigns at the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT), said: “The current season ticket system still fails to reflect our modern work force and discriminates against women who make up three quarters of part-time workers, years after the government committed to roll-out flexible ticketing nationally.

“We want to see a ticketing system that reflects modern working patterns and makes rail travel affordable, not just for the UK’s millions of part-time workers, but also for the thousands more who are currently prevented from working due to the cost of the commute.”

Commuters can currently choose to buy a season ticket or single journey tickets, but have few flexible ticketing schemes available. Whilst season tickets are more affordable compared to daily individual tickets, they represent a smaller saving when travelling less than five days a week. If a four-day week annual season ticket was available, the CBT said, commuters coming into London could save around £805.

Other organisations focused on the importance of improving rail journeys in order to reflect fare increases. The Rail Delivery Group’s chief executive, Paul Plummer, commented: “Nobody wants to pay more to travel to work and at the moment in some areas people aren't getting the service they are paying for, and we know how frustrating that is. But increases to season tickets are set by government. For every pound paid in fares, 97p goes back into running and improving services and it’s our job to make sure that money is spent well.

“We need to sustain investment to build a modern railway, and money from fares helps us to do this, which is crucial with rail now more important to our nation's prosperity than at any time since the Victorian era. In many places our railway is full, with passenger numbers having doubled in two decades, and we know passengers and the country need better services.”

Several union-based campaigns are taking place across the country today to protest the fare increase against a backdrop of deteriorating services, specifically GTR’s performance across its Southern branch in recent months.

Outside London Bridge station, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn joined unions at a demonstration calling for the renationalisation of the railways, one of his key transport pledges in his renewed leadership bid.

(Top image c. Lauren Hurley and PA Wire)


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Lutz   16/08/2016 at 11:34

So what exactly are they saying; we know that the plan has been for some time to increase fares to shift the costs from the tax payer with users of the service taking on a higher proportion of the operation costs. We could of course reduces fares by eliminating redundant positions amongst the on-board crews. In addition: "Rail passengers are paying more and getting even less. " False. "... guards who ensure journeys run smoothly and safely" They are part of the process, but not the whole of it. Further, these positions are being made redundant by advances in technology and process. Further, human involvement is a major factor in accidents - about 30% IIRC - so elimination of train crew will contribute to improved safety. "publicly owned" - meaning under the control of the Union Leaders with abysmal service, and the travelling public being constantly held to ransom. etc, etc.

Paul F   16/08/2016 at 12:55

Further to the earlier post by Lutz there is another misleading statement contained within this article: "But increases to season tickets are set by government." Unless I've misunderstood what I've just checked on the DFT site...the government 'limits fares' that can be set by the Train Operating Companies (i.e. sets a maximum for certain journey/ticket types) to limit what they presumably fear would be even larger fare hikes if the market was left to its own. How is this a bad thing for the customer? Typically where thee are no restrictions, i.e. off peak tickets, station parking etc. the fair increases have been greater than those limited by the DFT.

Jerry Alderson   16/08/2016 at 16:13

@PaulF. The DfT web-site is dishonest. It says that the government "limits" fare rises but actually the government DEMANDS fare rises, because it wants to maximise the amount of money it receives (net) from the operators. Technicaly the TOCs are given a choice between implementing the fare rises demanded or paying the equivalent of the fare rise our of their own pockets. The premium payments (or reduced subsidy) set by the government are so stringent that the TOCs have little maneouvrability. Am I the only person to be fed-up hearing that renationalisation would solve all of the railway's problems and see vastly reduced fares? It is politically-motivated naive nonsense. Any savings that could be made, however it is done, would be pocketed by the government. There is no way that they would pass in onto passengers as reduced fares. The government has worked out what the market will bear with rail fares and will never reduce it. Government priorities would be giving savings to other sectors, such as the NHS, or lowering the annual deficit (and one day start to pay down the £1.7 trillion debt).

Nwarrior   16/08/2016 at 17:31

Interesting that they don't comment on how much train driver salaries have gone up since privatisation - if I recall correctly these far outstrip the increase in average earnings - pot/kettle/black - who's really being greedy?

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