British rail fare increases of 3.4% have come into effect today, their biggest rise for five years and almost double the average traveller’s annual wage growth.
While the increase in regulated fares, which includes season tickets, is slightly below the 3.6% top limit set by the government in August, claims by rail operators that they are committed to keeping down the cost of travel has been met with widespread ridicule.
This morning saw dozens of demonstrations against the rises by commuter groups and unions at some of the UK’s busiest stations.
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With wage growth stagnating and inflation rocketing, the new fares are likely to cause misery among rail travellers. The cost of an annual season ticket from Brighton to London, voted the UK’s worst rail journey, is now £4,332.
Unregulated fares, such as off-peak leisure tickets, can go up by as much as the train companies like.
The Rail Delivery Group, the rail industry body, says 97% of money goes back into improving the railway including more seats and train carriages and better stations, and adds that private investment in rail reached a record £925m in 2016-17.
Speaking to ITV’s Good Morning Britain, the group’s chief executive Paul Plummer said he understood the frustration of commuters but claimed the increases were necessary to help maintain and improve services.
He said “the fares are actually leveraging more investment from private sector and government,” but added regulated rates were set by Whitehall and that influenced all prices.
Despite protests at more than 40 stations across the country, the Transport Chris Grayling declined broadcast interview requests to defend the rises.
This drew an angry response from RMT union boss Mick Cash who said the increases were “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”.
In an interview BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Andy McDonald, the shadow transport secretary, said: “this franchise system has completely and utterly failed” pointing to TUC analysis which showed British rail commuters were spending a considerably higher proportion of their salaries on season tickets than their European counterparts.
A Sunday Times report out last week found almost half of all trains over the festive season arrived late. The north of England has the worst-performing rail firms in the country with 72.5% of services operated by First Rail Hull late or cancelled in the run-up to Christmas.
The independent watchdog Transport Focus said the new fares are a “chill wind” for passengers and called on the government to ditch the ”increasingly outmoded RPI“ as the basis for setting rail fares and replace it with the ”fairer, clearer Consumer prices index formula“.
Today’s fare rise is well above the latest Consumer Prices Index inflation figure of 3%, which was a five-and-a-half year high.
Some have pointed to London where there has been a freeze on London transport except for rail services, where fares are set by government and private operators. Speaking to The Guardian, the Mayor, Sadiq Khan, said: “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”.
The new fares mean the price for one person to buy a peak walk-on return fare from London to Manchester will be £351, more than the cost of a family of four travelling to Iceland to see Father Christmas.
Here’s what else you could buy for the same price as, or less than, that one return trip:
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