Rail fares in­crease of 1.9%, as Trans­port Fo­cus urges South­ern fares freeze

Rail (UK) - - Network News -

Reg­u­lated rail fares are set to rise by 1.9% in Jan­uary 2017, fol­low­ing the an­nounce­ment of the Re­tail Price In­dex fig­ure on Au­gust 16. The Gov­ern­ment has com­mit­ted to re­strain­ing reg­u­lated fare in­creases to the of­fi­cial level of in­fla­tion.

But the an­nounce­ment drew a crit­i­cal re­ac­tion from Shadow Trans­port Sec­re­tary Andy McDon­ald, who said: “To­day’s an­nounce­ment will heap more mis­ery on UK com­muters who al­ready pay the high­est fares in Europe for the over­crowded car­riages and un­re­li­able ser­vices that in­creas­ingly char­ac­terise our net­work.

“Pas­sen­gers are told that higher fares are nec­es­sary to fund in­vest­ment, but vi­tal projects have been de­layed by years and es­sen­tial main­te­nance works have been put on hold. Money that could be used to keep fares down or rein­vested to im­prove our ser­vices is in­stead sub­si­dis­ing the prof­its of pri­vate com­pa­nies and other na­tion’s rail­way sys­tems.

“As we have seen with the South­ern Rail de­ba­cle, min­is­ters are cling­ing to a failed model for purely ide­o­log­i­cal rea­sons - and com­muters pay the price.”

Trans­port Fo­cus re­search has found that while Bri­tain has rel­a­tively high fares for some types of jour­ney it also has some of the low­est for long-dis­tance jour­neys.

But Rail De­liv­ery Group Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Paul Plum­mer ar­gued that fares in­creases are nec­es­sary to se­cure fu­ture in­vest­ment.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

Trans­port Fo­cus Chief Ex­ec­u­tive An­thony Smith said that many com­muters, par­tic­u­larly those in Lon­don and the South East, will feel that any fare rise is “un­fair”.

He called on the Gov­ern­ment to freeze fare in­creases for South­ern pas­sen­gers, adding: “Pas­sen­gers are play­ing their part by pour­ing over £9 bil­lion into the in­dus­try each year. The in­dus­try must now de­liver on its prom­ises of much more con­sis­tent, bet­ter per­for­mance.”

Smith also ques­tioned why the Gov­ern­ment uses the Re­tail Price In­dex as its in­fla­tion mea­sure when many wages are linked to the Con­sumer Price In­dex, which has a lower fig­ure of 0.6%. “It’s time for gov­ern­ment to re­think the way it cal­cu­lates fares,” he said.

Con­sumer watch­dog Which? called for the Gov­ern­ment to in­tro­duce a “new manda­tory om­buds­man” to en­sure pas­sen­ger com­plaints are “prop­erly heard”, and for bet­ter com­pen­sa­tion.

Di­rec­tor of Pol­icy and Cam­paigns Alex Neill said: “It’s lit­tle won­der that trust in train com­pa­nies is fall­ing when pas­sen­gers face can­cel­la­tions, de­lays and dis­rup­tion, yet see fares con­tinue to rise.”

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