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Rail fares hike 'another kick in the teeth'

The annual rise in rail fares has been described by public transport campaigners as "another kick in the teeth" for passengers.

The average increase across Britain of 2.3% came into force on Monday morning, although the figure v aries between operators, with fares on Virgin Trains East Coast services up by 4.9%.

The overall rise is the highest since January 2014, when fares increased by 2.8%.

Lianna Etkind, of the Campaign for Better Transport, said: "Today's fare rises are another kick in the teeth for long-suffering rail passengers.

"Many experienced a less frequent and more overcrowded service last year, and now they are required to pay more for the same this year. The whole fares system is completely unfair and its high time the Government overhauled it."

Bruce Williamson, of independent campaign group Railfuture, said: "With the chaos on Southern, lacklustre performance in Scotland and stalled electrification on the Great Western main line, passengers are going to wonder what they are getting for their increased ticket price.

"Our walk-on rail fares are already the most eye-watering in Europe, and with fuel duty frozen for motorists for the fifth year on the trot, it can't be denied that people are being priced off the railways."

The Government uses the previous July's Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure of inflation to determine increases in regulated fares, which was 1.9%. These are around 40% of all tickets and include season tickets on most commuter routes and some off-peak return tickets on long distance journeys.

Train operating companies set the prices of other tickets but are bound by competition rules.

Mr Williamson called on the Government to use the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) for regulated fare rises rather than RPI, claiming it is a "much more accurate figure" for measuring inflation.

He said: " This is only 0.6% which would be a much more reasonable fare increase."

"It's no wonder passengers consistently rate rail fares as poor value for money. Inflation is set to outstrip wages in 2017, making rail fares even less affordable, with an ever-larger chunk of working people's income being spent on getting to work."

According to the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which represents train operators, around 97p in every pound paid by passengers goes back into running and improving services.

RDG chief executive Paul Plummer said: "Nobody wants to pay more to travel to work and at the moment in some places people aren't getting the service they are paying for.

"However, increases to season tickets are set by government. Money from fares is helping to sustain investment in the longer, newer trains and more punctual journeys that passengers want."

Virgin Trains East Coast said an overhaul of its pricing strategy means there will be 10,000 more discounted advanced fares available every week.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: "We are delivering the biggest rail modernisation programme for more than a century, providing more seats and services.

"We have always fairly balanced the cost of this investment between the taxpayer and the passenger."

Labour analysis of ticket costs found that the average commuter is handing over £594 more for a season ticket than when the Conservatives came to power.

The party looked at prices on nearly 200 routes and found that some commuters are paying over £2,000 more to travel to work than in 2010.

It found the highest increase was a season ticket on Virgin Trains between Birmingham and London Euston, which will cost passengers £2,172 more in 2017 than 2010.

An annual ticket between Tame Bridge Parkway, near Walsall, and Nuneaton will be 43% higher, according to Labour.

Commuters travelling from Brighton to London, who have endured chaotic services on the Southern Rail operated route, will be paying nearly £980 more than in 2010, its research found.

Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald said: "Passengers have faced truly staggering fare rises of over £2,000 since 2010. In some cases, commuters are paying 43% as a direct consequence of decisions made by ministers.

"Fares have risen more than three times faster than wages and passengers on some routes have also been hit by 'stealth fare rises' of up to 162%.

"Passengers were always told that higher fares were necessary to fund investment, but vital projects have been delayed by years and essential maintenance works have been put on hold.

"The truth is that our heavily fragmented railways mean that it takes years longer and costs much more than it should to deliver basic improvements.

"The railways need reforms that could be implemented if public ownership was extended to passenger services, but ministers are persisting with a failed model for purely ideological reasons."

Anthony Smith, chief executive of independent watchdog Transport Focus, said: "Passengers will be disappointed that fares will rise by 2.3% - higher than the last two years.

"In return passengers will now want to see the industry's investment deliver a more reliable day-to-day railway.

"Many commuters, in London and the South East in particular, have suffered poor performance and will feel anger at paying more and getting less.

"A fares freeze for Southern passengers would help to start rebuild trust following the months of misery they have experienced."

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