Anger as millions of train passengers face biggest hike in fares in 10 years

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The Department for Transport (DfT) announced that regulated fares in England will increase by up to 5.9 percent from March 5 next year.

Analysis of Office of Rail and Road data for standard class fares in Britain shows it would represent the largest annual rise since a 6.2 percent jump in fares back in 2012.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper defended the 5.9 percent cap as “well below inflation”, but Labour described the increase in the cost of train travel as “savage”.

About 45 percent of fares on Britain’s railways are regulated by the Westminster, Scottish and Welsh Governments.

They include season tickets on most commuter journeys, some off-peak return tickets on long-distance journeys and flexible tickets for travel around major cities.

Train operators set unregulated fares, although their decisions are heavily influenced by governments due to contracts introduced because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Harper said: “This is the biggest-ever Government intervention in rail fares. I’m capping the rise well below inflation to help reduce the impact on passengers.

“It has been a difficult year and the impact of inflation is being felt across the UK economy. We do not want to add to the problem. This is a fair balance between the passengers who use our trains and the taxpayers who help pay for them.”

Examples of annual season ticket rises based on a 5.9 percent hike include:

– Woking to London: Up £216 from £3,664 to £3,880.

– Liverpool to Manchester (any route): Up £169 from £2,864 to £3,033.

– Gloucester to Birmingham: Up £274 from £4,636 to £4,910.

Annual increases in fares used to be implemented on the first working day of each year, but have been delayed since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Since the railways were privatised in the mid-1990s, regulated fare rises have not been more than one percentage point above or below the Retail Price Index (RPI) measure of inflation.

The RPI figure for the previous July is normally used, which this year was 12.3 percent.

The DfT said “for this year only” it has aligned the increase with July’s average earnings growth.

But Labour’s shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said: “This savage fare hike will be a sick joke for millions reliant on crumbling services. People up and down this country are paying the price for 12 years of Tory failure.”

David Sidebottom, director at watchdog Transport Focus, said: “No-one likes prices going up. In our latest research, less than half of passengers think the railway currently performs well on delivering value for money tickets.

“After months of unreliable services and strike disruption, it’s clear that too many passengers are not getting a value-for-money service.

“Capping fares below inflation and the delay until March is welcome and will go some way to easing the pain, but the need for reform of fares and ticketing in the longer term must not be forgotten.”

Norman Baker of lobby group Campaign for Better Transport said: “We must be grateful for small mercies: it is clear that the increase could have been much worse. But this is still a large rise which will deter some people from using the railways.

“This increase stands in stark contrast to the situation with fuel duty, which was cut earlier this year after being frozen for years.

“What the Government ought to do is freeze rail fares to help passengers and encourage people on to the railways. Such a freeze could be funded by taxing fuel on domestic flights.”

Frank Ward, interim general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association, said: “These fare increases are going to hit workers hard and bolster rail companies’ profits.

“The Government has a nerve, spinning this as an intervention to keep fares down.

“The truth is that they’re increasing fares by a bigger percentage than they’re willing to offer nurses, firefighters or rail workers in pay.

“The only people who will benefit from this news are the rail companies who are already making massive profits for their shareholders.”

The Scottish Government has confirmed fares will be frozen until March, but has not made any further commitment.

No announcement on fares has been made by the Welsh Government.