Commuter and campaign groups call for freeze on train fare hikes following year of mass cancellations and strikes
Wed 15 Aug 2018
Rail fares will go up by another 3.2% in January, the government has confirmed, with the cost of some season tickets to rise by hundreds of pounds.
The figure is below the 3.6% hike in January this year, which was the steepest rise in five years, but continues the trend of fare increases far outstripping any rise in wages.
Rail industry leaders said the fares were “underpinning once-in-a-generation investment” in the railways.
Commuters and campaigners intensified calls for a freeze in fares, in a year in which promised improvements to the railway did not materialise, strikes disrupted services, and the May timetable change cancelled tens of thousands of trains, particularly across Northern and Govia Thameslink Railway.
Confirmation of the planned 2019 rise came with the publication of July’s inflation figures by the Office of National Statistics. Rises to regulated fares, which include season tickets and off-peak returns, are capped at the level of RPI inflation – a measure that is not habitually used and is higher than CPI.
How does the UK compare with other countries on rail fares?
Studies have repeatedly found weekday commuter fares to be significantly higher in Britain than elsewhere in Europe.
Analysis in the 2011 government-commissioned McNulty Value for Money report said fares by distance travelled were about 30% more.
According to a TUC analysis, season ticket fares on city commuter routes can be up to six times more expensive than in France, Germany, Italy or Spain.
However, UK rail services have been faster and more frequent on routes they compared. Broadly, peak intercity fares also tend to be much more expensive in the UK; but advance, off-peak tickets can be much cheaper than abroad.
Off-peak fares bought on the day are similar – but UK tickets are often the same price for a return as a single: an anomaly that means British single fares are typically more expensive, yet returns cheaper than European equivalents.
The transport secretary, Chris Grayling, infuriated unions by suggesting rail fare increases could be pegged to the lower measure of inflation if unions accept the same measure for staff pay. In a letter to the RMT, Aslef, Unite and TSSA unions, Grayling said: “As you will be aware, one of the industry’s largest costs is pay … it is important that pay agreements also use CPI and not RPI in future when it comes to basing pay deals on inflation.”
Unions blame privatisation for escalating rail costs. Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT, said: “If Chris Grayling seriously thinks that rail staff are going to pay the price for his rank incompetence and the greed of the private train operating companies then he needs to think again.”
Grayling defended his proposal in BBC interviews on Wednesday morning as “entirely fair”, said he was “very disappointed” at the reaction from the unions. He said: “My challenge to the unions is let’s get the routine increases down to the lower level of inflation.”
Labour’s shadow transport secretary, Andy McDonald, said Grayling’s “attack on staff pay is, at best, a distraction technique and at worse a recipe for years of industrial action”.
The RMT staged small protests at stations across the country on Wednesday morning against fare rises, claiming passengers were paying “more for less” as job cuts meant fewer staff working on trains, stations and ticket offices.
Commuters at Kings Cross station in London were dismayed at the news of further fare rises. Lydia Bolton, 35, of Royston, Hertfordshire, who works part-time in the charity sector and pays £32 a day to travel to work, said: “It’s awful. We don’t know if we’re going to get a pay rise, we’ve got a young child and we have nursery costs. Of course they should freeze fares – it’s insane.”