Above-inflation rises on rail fares

Bicester Advertiser: More commuters face paying 5,000 a year for their London season tickets after new year price rises were revealed today More commuters face paying 5,000 a year for their London season tickets after new year price rises were revealed today

Some commuters will face above-inflation increases on their annual season tickets from next week after the new fares for 2014 were announced today.

Train companies in England have licence to put up regulated fares, which include season tickets, by as much as 2% above the agreed price-increase figure which, for 2014, is 3.1%.

Commuters travelling from Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire to London on annual season tickets will have to fork out more than the 3.1% average, with their fares going up 3.29% to £4,772 from January 2.

Also, those on annual seasons for travel between Reading in Berkshire and London will, from January 2, find their tickets going up 3.23% to £4,088.

Basingstoke in Hampshire is another commuter town where annual season ticket prices will pass the £4,000 mark in the new year. Fares are rising 2.93% from £3,960 to £4,076.

On the Kent coast, travellers from Dover Priory and Deal will be joining the £5,000-a-year commuter "club", with annual season tickets to London rising 3.04% to £5,012.

The increase for any January is calculated from the RPI rate of inflation figure for the previous July. In July this year the RPI figure was 3.1%.

When the July figure was announced, the price-rise formula was RPI plus 1%. But Chancellor George Osborne announced in his Autumn Statement earlier this month that the formula was being changed to RPI plus 0%.

Earlier, the Government announced that the "flex" rule, which originally allowed companies to put up some fares by up to 5% above the RPI plus 1% figure, would be limited to 2% above.

Unregulated fares - typically off-peak leisure tickets - are not capped so train companies can put them up as much as they like.

Announcing the 2014 fare rises today, industry organisation the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) said the overall average increase - taking all tickets into account - would be 2.8%, which it said was the lowest overall increase in four years.

RDG director general Michael Roberts said: "We strongly support the Government's decision to introduce a real-term freeze in the average price of season tickets next year.

"The lowest increase across all fares for four years shows the industry's determination to maintain the phenomenal growth in rail travel since the mid-1990s.

"Nobody likes paying more to travel by train, particularly to go to work, but billions are being spent to serve passengers better.

"While major projects like the new King's Cross (in London) or Birmingham New Street stations are plain for all to see, work has also been proceeding with thousands of smaller, less visible schemes to improve tracks, signals and tunnels. Investment in new trains has improved passenger comfort and helped make possible 4,000 more services a day than in the mid-1990s.

"According to European Commission research published last week, rail passengers rate the UK's railway the best major network in Europe, but we will not rest on our laurels.

"Over the next five years, at least £24 billion more will be spent improving the rail network. And the rail industry is working hard to get more for every pound we spend, allowing Government the scope to hold down fares in future years should it choose to do so."

Campaign for Better Transport chief executive Stephen Joseph said: "Passengers will see season tickets going up three times faster than their wages.

"The Government needs to do more to stop the squeeze on commuters and avoid pricing people off the railways. We need a permanent end to inflation-busting fare rises calculated using an out-of-date formula.

"The Government should stop using RPI to calculate ticket prices. It over-estimates real inflation so consistently that the Office for National Statistics has dropped it as an official measure.

"The Government has already switched to CPI for most things. Doing the same for train fares would have little impact on railway revenues, but it would save passengers money and bring fares into line with things like public sector pensions."

Shadow transport secretary Mary Creagh said: "It's completely unacceptable that passengers have had to wait until two days before Christmas to find out how much their season tickets will cost in the new year. People deserve timely information to budget effectively.

"Rail fares have risen 20% under this Government. David Cameron is doing nothing to tackle the cost-of-living crisis. Labour would remove the flex and put a tough cap on rail fares."

A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: "The Government understands concerns rail passengers have about the costs of fares and the impact they have on household budgets. That is why next year, for the first time in a decade, regulated fares will not rise on average by more than the rate of inflation, offering relief for families and the hardworking people.

"As well as protecting regulated fares, the Government is driving forward the biggest programme of rail modernisation programmes ever, with £38 billion being invested over the next five years.

"That means new state-of-the-art trains, better stations and hundreds of miles of electrified track which will help cut journey times, provide better connections and stimulate growth across the country."

Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT transport union, said: "Just as the private train companies are closing down services due to adverse weather, they are publishing fare increases which massively outstrip wages and which will once again hit low to medium earners where it hurts. The great private rail rip-off continues.

"Today's disruption to services is worsened by a billion-pound backlog on essential maintenance and cuts to staffing which leave Britain's railways constantly on the edge. Meanwhile, the train operators are draining out cash through profiteering and exploitation of passengers and that's money that could be invested in infrastructure and capacity.

"The link between privatisation, high fares and the repeated disruption to services could not be clearer. Public ownership is the only solution to this outrageous racketeering that forces the British people to pay the highest fares in Europe to travel on overcrowded and unreliable services."

Other season tickets which will be going up by more than the average 3.1% are Manchester to Liverpool (up 3.14% to £2,888) and Cambridge to Peterborough (up 4.07% to £3,168).

The Southern train company said that its average commuter-fare rise would be 2.87%, while Gatwick Express fares, which have a buy-at-station price of £19.90 one way, will stay the same in 2014.

Southern added that its average rise across all its fares for 2014 would be 2.96%.

Another train company, First TransPennine Express (FTPE), said its season tickets and its turn-up-and-go tickets will be rising by an average of 3% and that its advance fares would be frozen at 2013 levels.

Overall, FTPE fares will rise by 2.4% on average from January 2.

Transport for London also announced today that fares on public transport in the capital would rise by an average of 2.7% from January 19.

Tube season tickets will be rising by an average of 3.2%.

The London fares, first announced earlier this month, have been changed following Mr Osborne's price-rise formula announcement.

Travellers will be able to get the 2013 rate on season tickets up to and including January 18.

David Sidebottom, acting chief executive of the rail customer watchdog Passenger Focus, said: "Although fares have still increased, passengers will be relieved that the average rise was capped at inflation instead of inflation plus 1% for regulated fares as it has been previously. It is also good to see that there is much less flexibility for individual fares to go up by more than this. Both of these are things we have called for and we were pleased that Government recognised the need to act to relieve the burden on hard-pressed passengers.

"This is a good time for the industry to look at the value for money of fares. What is now needed is a more flexible fares structure that delivers the type of products that passengers want."

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