Scotrail fare hike a ‘rip off ’ af­ter poor per­for­mance

Rail fares have soared in re­cent years – and com­muters may re­spond by tak­ing to the roads

The Scotsman - - Front Page - By CHRIS MAR­SHALL

A 2.8 per cent rise in Scotrail fares comes into af­fect to­day, with the in­crease branded a “ripoff ” amid grow­ing anger over the trans­port op­er­a­tor.

The price hike comes as re­search sug­gests UK pas­sen­gers spend up to five times as much on sea­son tick­ets as those in other Euro­pean coun­tries.

Scotrail’s rep­u­ta­tion has been bat­tered in re­cent weeks by the can­cel­la­tion of hun­dreds of train ser­vices to com­plete a back­log in staff train­ing. Scot­tish Labour said the lat­est fare rise would “crip­ple” cus­tomers.

Pas­sen­gers are be­ing “ripped off ” by an in­crease in rail fares as punc­tu­al­ity across the net­work plum­mets to a 13-year low, it has been claimed.

Com­muters will this year see a 2.8 per cent in­crease on Scotrail ser­vices, with an aver­age in­crease of 3.1 per cent across the UK as a whole.

The fare rises come de­spite anal­y­sis show­ing the worst level of per­for­mance across the UK since Septem­ber 2005.

Trans­port Scot­land said the fare rises were needed for con­tin­ued in­vest­ment in the net­work, but Labour said cus­tomers were be­ing “crip­pled” by the ris­ing cost of rail travel.

Re­search shows one in seven trains across the UK were de­layed by at least five min­utes in the past 12 months as a se­ries of ma­jor is­sues plagued the rail­way sys­tem.

Ex­treme weather, er­rors in the launch of new timeta­bles, strikes and sig­nalling fail­ures are among the causes.

Amid grow­ing anger among those who rely on the rail­way, a se­ries of protests will be held across the UK to­day, with re­search show­ing that pas­sen­gers spend up to five times as much on sea­son tick­ets as those in other Euro­pean coun­tries.

Labour anal­y­sis of more than 180 UK routes sug­gests that an aver­age com­muter is pay­ing £2,980 for their an­nual sea­son ticket, up £786 on 2010, which was the year the Con­ser­va­tives came to power as part of a coali­tion gov­ern­ment.

Scot­tish Labour’s trans­port spokesman Colin Smyth said: “This rail fare rise is a rip-off. Com­muters are now be­ing forced to pay more for train ser­vices, which are plagued by de­lays, can­cel­la­tions and over­crowd­ing.

“Across the coun­try this fare rise will crip­ple com­muters, with an­nual sea­son tick­ets on some routes now cost­ing well in ex­cess of £4,000.”

Rail, Mar­itime & Trans­port trade union gen­eral sec­re­tary Mick Cash said pas­sen­gers were be­ing “bat­tered by the toxic com­bi­na­tion of gross mis­man­age­ment and prof­i­teer­ing”.

Bruce Wil­liamson, from cam­paign group Rail­fu­ture said: “Af­ter a ter­ri­ble year of timetable chaos, pas­sen­gers are be­ing re­warded with yet an­other kick in the wal­let.”

A Trans­port Scot­land spokesman said: “While any fare in­crease is un­wel­come, calls for a fares freeze un­der­es­ti­mate the im­pact of these on the pub­lic purse.

“Two-thirds of the cost of run­ning the rail­way is al­ready met through Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment sub­sidy, with the re­main­der through rail pas­sen­ger rev­enues. Any change to rail fares could there­fore have a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on the tax­payer.

“Scotrail ac­cept that their per­for­mance has not been good enough re­cently and the is­sue of a re­me­dial no­tice demon­strates min­is­ters have made clear the need for ro­bust im­prove­ment.”

There is some­thing rather ro­man­tic about trav­el­ling by train – so much so that Visits­cot­land pro­motes “Scot­land’s Great Rail Jour­neys” through some of this coun­try’s most stun­ning scenery such as the West High­land Line from Glas­gow to Mal­laig and the trip from In­ver­ness to Kyle of Lochalsh. This is rail trans­port at its finest, travel for its own sake, for en­joy­ment. But the or­di­nary ex­pe­ri­ence of many Scot­tish com­muters at­tempt­ing to travel on more worka­day routes is any­thing but joy­ful.

In­stead, de­lays and can­cel­la­tions have be­come all too com­mon – with Scotrail’s cur­rent prob­lems re­cently branded “un­ac­cept­able” by Trans­port Sec­re­tary Michael Math­e­son in the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment. Those fail­ings can have sig­nif­i­cant knock-on ef­fects on in­di­vid­u­als and the wider Scot­tish econ­omy. In­deed, one Ed­in­burgh shop boss last month went so far as to say he would never again em­ploy some­one who re­lied on trains to get to work be­cause of the de­lays ex­pe­ri­enced by a key mem­ber of staff. That may have been an over­re­ac­tion, but the frus­tra­tions of those con­cerned are un­der­stand­able to most peo­ple.

And so it was hardly sur­pris­ing when there was a cho­rus of out­rage over the lat­est ticket price rises. Scotrail’s fares were due to go up to­day by an aver­age of 2.8 per cent, while Lon­don North Eastern Rail­way’s fares were to in­crease by 3.4 per cent. Across the whole of the UK, the aver­age rise is 3.1 per cent.

An anal­y­sis by Labour of more than 180 routes found the aver­age an­nual sea­son ticket cost £2,980, up £786 from 2010, and that fares had risen nearly three times faster than wages.

With UK rail travel al­ready among the most ex­pen­sive in Europe, com­muters can be for­given for com­plain­ing about rises – par­tic­u­larly when the ser­vice is not up to scratch. Apart from de­lays, find­ing a seat on the most pop­u­lar rush­hour jour­neys is of­ten a strug­gle.

The prob­lem for those who travel by other means is that rail trav­ellers may do more than com­plain, they could de­cide to switch to the roads, lead­ing to in­creased con­ges­tion, air pol­lu­tion and green­house gas emis­sions.

The rail­ways are a vi­tal part of this coun­try’s trans­port in­fra­struc­ture, play­ing a key role in the econ­omy. Trains need to run on time ex­cept in the most ex­cep­tional cir­cum­stances. At a time when too many ser­vices are not re­li­able, fare rises only add in­sult to in­jury.

0 Scotrail – where fares will rise 2.8 per cent – has been is­sued a re­me­dial no­tice af­ter poor per­for­mances last year

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