UK ‘rip-off’ rail fares to soar again in ‘another kick in teeth to commuters’

Britain’s "rip-off" rail fares are set to soar by an average of 3.1 per cent on January 2 – the biggest hike in six years – despite falling services and growing anger from passengers.

Many long-distance commuters will see the annual cost of getting to their job increase by up to £150, as campaigners warn that people are being priced out of travelling to work.

The RMT union has described the rail fare increase as "another kick in the teeth for passengers on Britain’s rip-off railways", while other groups said passengers deserve a "break".

According to Office of Rail and Road data, it will be the largest rise since January 2013.

The RMT union claims Britons are paying "the highest fares in Europe" on "rammed-out and unreliable services".

The Rail Delivery Group, the industry body, announced the price hike on Friday, promising extra services and more seats amid calls for fares to be frozen following timetable chaos in May.

Examples of increases in annual season tickets include £148 for Brighton to London (from £4,696 to £4,844), £130 for Gloucester to Birmingham (from £4,108 to £4,238), and £100 for Manchester to Liverpool (from £3,152 to £3,252).

The annual cost from Prime Minister Theresa May’s constituency of Maidenhead to London will increase by £96 (from £3,092 to £3,188).

Train punctuality slipped to a 12-year low in the summer and 14% of services failed to meet the industry’s punctuality target in the 12 months to November 10.

That means one in seven trains arrived at terminating stations more than five minutes late for commuter services or 10 minutes late for long-distance journeys.

Rail Delivery Group has tried to soften the blow for commuters by saying that the increase is lower than July’s RPI measure of inflation.

Its chief executive, Paul Plummer, said: "Nobody wants to pay more to travel, especially those who experienced significant disruption earlier this year.

"Money from fares is underpinning the improvements to the railway that passengers want and which ultimately help boost the wider economy.

"That means more seats, extra services and better connections right across the country."

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said Transport for London (TfL) fares will not rise at all next year as part of a four-year freeze until 2020.

RMT union General secretary Mick Cash claimed British people will be paying "the highest fares in Europe on our rammed-out and unreliable services".

He insisted the "only solution" is a publicly-owned railway "free from the greed of the private train companies".

There have been calls for prices to be frozen following chaos caused by the implementation of new timetables in May.

Fewer than half (45 per cent) of passengers are satisfied with the value for money of train tickets, according to a survey by independent watchdog Transport Focus.

Speaking at London Bridge railway station, Anthony Smith, chief executive of Transport Focus, said: "The rail industry gets £10 billion a year from rail passengers, huge amounts of money from tax payers, it’s about time we got what we paid for.

"Passengers want a reliable railway, they want a better value for money railway, and they shouldn’t have to wait any longer for that.

"Some passengers will have memories of the timetable crisis in the summer, we’ve got ongoing very patchy performance, all this is causing problems so it’s a very mixed picture but people are still waiting too long for reliable railway.

"A fare freeze would be a good New Year’s present. In the absence of that, better value for money railways so passengers can feel they’re getting value for money would be a good step in the right direction.

"If trains get more reliable, if people can really rely on the railway again, I think value for money will stabilise or go up.

"Advice to commuters is to buy a ticket now so that they’re this year’s prices. Secondly if things do go wrong, complain, and make sure the industry hears that you’re not happy. Thirdly, for leisure passengers, just use your railcard and travel off-peak."

Travelling through London Bridge, commuter Verna Dilley, 72, said that passengers must feel "wretched" about the price increase.

She said: "I think railway travel is incredibly expensive.

"It’s probably one of the cleaner ways of travelling, we’re all thinking of the environment, but why do they keep putting the fares up and not giving us a very good service?

"I don’t think it’s value for money and I think quite regularly when you have to stand for a long journey, why should you have to pay a fare?

"They’re paying to go to work, so much money, and wage increases are not happening.

"It’s just becoming ridiculous."

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald claimed the increase shows "a Government and rail industry out of touch with passenger concerns".

Alex Hayman, of consumer group Which?, said: "Passengers have suffered horrifically this year from timetable chaos and experienced rail punctuality hitting its lowest level in 12 years and these price hikes will only add to their misery.

"If the rail system is going to start working for passengers, not just train companies, then value for money needs to be a key part of the upcoming Government review and passengers must receive automatic compensation for delays and cancellations."

Transport Salaried Staffs Association general secretary, Manuel Cortes said it was "annual kick-in-the-teeth time."

Reacting to the rail fares announcement, he said: "New year rail fare rises are more reliable in Tory Britain than the weather or our beleaguered rail services.

"Passengers deserve a break from this annual, legalised, privatised rail rip-off.

"As commuters pack into their overcrowded trains again today they will be at a loss to understand why this government thinks it’s OK to carry on having chunky fare hikes dumped on them.

"After a year of serious systemic disruption as the privatisation model falls apart, a fare freeze would have been appropriate, but once again hard pressed commuters are being milked like cash cows into paying more money for less service – less seats, less staff and too often these days no trains at all."

After a price hike in January this year, the campaign group Railfuture said: "People are being priced out of going to work."

On Thursday the Office of Rail and Road launched formal action against Network Rail.

The rail regulator ordered the Government-owned company to improve its management of Britain’s rail infrastructure or face the possibility of fines and being sued by train companies for lost revenue.

Why are fares going up again?

Rail travel will be more expensive from January 2.

Why do fares go up? Successive governments have chosen to reduce the funding of the railways by taxpayers and increase the relative contribution of passengers.

The increase in around 40 per cent of fares is regulated by the UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments. Other fares are set by train operators.

Regulated fares include season tickets on most commuter routes, some off-peak return tickets on long-distance journeys and flexible tickets for use in major cities.

Price rises for these tickets are capped at July’s RPI figure, which was 3.2 per cent.

There is an exception in Scotland, as its Government caps regulated off-peak fare increases at RPI minus one percentage point.

Passenger groups claim people are being priced off the railways because wages are not increasing at the same rate as fares.

What impact have fare rises had on demand?

Passenger numbers have more than doubled since the network was privatised in the mid-1990s.

Where does the money go?

Industry body the Rail Delivery Group says profit margins for rail firms are around 2 per cent, with the rest going on running the railway.

What improvements are being made?

The Department for Transport says it is investing in the biggest modernisation of the network since Victorian times, with major projects to provide faster and better trains with more seats.

Is there any way of avoiding the fare rise?

Many savvy commuters will renew their season tickets in the days before the annual rise is implemented.

Passengers can also save money by getting a railcard, travelling off-peak and booking in advance, although these options are not available for many journeys.

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