Critics hit out over expected 3.5% rise in rail season ticket costs

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Campaigners, trade unions and politicians have criticised the anticipated 3.5% rise in commuters’ train fares next year.

Pressure group the Campaign for Better Transport urged the Government to “commit to a fares freeze”.

The annual cost of getting to work for many long-distance travellers is expected to rise by more than £150.

The exact increase will be confirmed when the July Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure of inflation is released by the Office for National Statistics on Wednesday.

But economists from Investec and the EY Item Club both predict the figure will be announced as 3.5%.

The Department for Transport (DfT) uses July’s RPI to determine the annual increase in regulated train fares, which comes into force every January.

Regulated fares include season tickets on most commuter routes, some off-peak return tickets on long distance journeys and Anytime tickets around major cities.

These fares went up by 3.6% this year.

In January the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, said RPI has “no merit”, adding that “virtually everyone recognises” the alternative Consumer Prices Index (CPI).

Rail campaigners want CPI to be used to determine regulated fare increases, as it is generally lower than RPI.

The fare increase announcement comes as new research shows passenger satisfaction with rail punctuality and reliability has fallen in the last 10 years.

Analysis of Transport Focus survey results by consumer group Which? revealed that the proportion of people satisfied with those categories of train performance declined from 79% in spring 2008 to 73% in spring 2018.

The introduction of a new timetable in May caused widespread chaos in the North of England and on various London commuter lines. Thousands of passengers are still waiting to receive enhanced compensation.

The disruption led to the Government vetoing further timetable changes expected in December, which means upgrades in areas such as the West Midlands, the West of England and South Western Railway routes have been cancelled or delayed indefinitely.

A Campaign for Better Transport spokesman said: “Given the mess surrounding the new timetable, the lack of improvements and the failure to deliver compensation, the Government cannot go on telling passengers that fare increases are justified.”

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald claimed Transport Secretary Chris Grayling’s handling of the railways is “now beyond a joke”.

He called for the Government to freeze fares on the routes most severely affected by the timetable changes – Govia Thameslink Railway, Northern and TransPennine Express – as a “small gesture of goodwill towards those passengers who have suffered”.

Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, described the looming far increase as “another kick in the teeth for Britain’s passengers”.

A DfT spokesman said: “Any fare increase is unwelcome, but it is not fair to ask people who do not use trains to pay more for those who do.

“Taxpayers already subsidise the network by more than £4 billion a year – meaning that 38% of our transport budget is spent on the 2% of journeys that the railway accounts for.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “ScotRail’s fares increases are generally lower, on average, than those elsewhere in the UK.

“This is a result of our policy to place a cap that is lower than RPI on regulated off-peak fares increases, whereas the UK Government applies an increase at the level of RPI to all regulated fares.”

Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, representing train companies, said: “Of every pound spent on train fares, 98p is invested back into the railway, helping to underpin a once-in-a-generation investment to change and improve for the benefit of our customers, local communities and UK economy.”

Labour former transport secretary Lord Adonis later told BBC Radio 4’s the World at One that rail fares should not increase.

He said: “At a the time when one in five aren’t satisfied because they messed up these big timetable changes and the railway isn’t running properly, they’re expecting passengers to pay more for their fares next year.

“What should happen clearly, because this is the industry’s fault and it’s the Government’s fault, is that passengers shouldn’t be expected to pay more for a worse service.”

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