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Government urged to curb fare rises

Chancellor George Osborne is under pressure to limit the new-year rail fare rise after commuters learnt that some season tickets could go up by as much as 5.5% in January 2015.

The extent of the rise was revealed in the announcement today of the July 2014 RPI inflation figure which determines the January 2015 annual rise for regulated fares which include season tickets.

In his autumn statement of 2013, Mr Osborne announced he was knocking 1% off the January 2014 rise and today campaign groups urged the Chancellor to make a similar announcement in this year's autumn statement.

The current new-year price rise formula limits regulated fares to an average rise of RPI inflation plus 1%.

With the RPI rate for July 2014 being announced as 2.5%, commuters in England will have to fork out an average 3.5% extra in January.

For some travellers the rise could be even higher. T rain companies also have a "flex" rule which allows them to increase some regulated fares by 2% above the average as long the overall average remains at the RPI plus 1% level. This means some fares could go up by 5.5% in the new year.

As well as calling for Government intervention, campaigners also said it was unfair on passengers that the rise was linked to RPI inflation rather than the, usually lower, CPI inflation figure.

David Sidebottom, director of rail customer watchdog Passenger Focus, said: "Many passengers will be concerned about today's news about the fare rise.

"This level of fare increase puts more pressure on the railways to ensure passengers get an excellent service for the money they are paying.

"We hope the Government will step in again as it did last year, to ensure that train fares in England do not rise above the rate of inflation announced today."

Transport charity Sustrans said: "Last year the Chancellor showed he understood the negative impact of high rail costs on the economy by holding fares to an inflation-only increase. He needs to take action again this year."

Martin Abrams, public transport campaigner for the Campaign for Better Transport, said fares have gone up by more than 24% since 2010, while wages had only risen by 6.9% over the same period.

He went on: "By deliberately ramping up rail fares, the Government is hitting the living standards of everyone who relies on the train to get to work

"There are the large numbers of rail commuters living in marginal constituencies. They will be looking to Government to bring a permanent end to this annual fiasco."

The fares rise was condemned by Labour, with shadow transport secretary Mary Creagh saying: "David Cameron has failed to stand up for working people struggling with the cost-of-living crisis."

The TSSA transport union said Conservative ministers had to stop the annual "persecution of millions of rail passengers with inflation-busting increases".

Rail Minister Claire Perry acknowledged that passengers had had to contend with "inflation-busting fare rises almost every year over the last decade" but insisted the Government was committed to "fair fares".

She said: "What we have got to do is make sure rail passengers, who could be forgiven for thinking 'What on earth am I getting for these rises I've seen over the last decade?', start to realise that they are paying fair fares for comfortable commuting."

Ms Creagh said: "David Cameron has allowed train companies to sting passengers with inflation-busting fare rises of over 20% since 2010, costing them hundreds of pounds.

"We can't go on like this. The choice facing passengers is between fares rising another 24% by 2018 under the Tories, or a Labour government which will cap annual fares on every route and enact the biggest railway reforms since the Tories' botched privatisation, delivering a better deal for passengers and taxpayers."

TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said: "It is an absurd political myth that fares have to rise above inflation every year to pay for new lines. It is high time to stop this annual persecution of rail passengers."

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "This is a miserable day for commuters who will have to hand over an even greater slice of their pay packets to rail companies in the new year thanks to yet more wage-busting fare rises.

"Year-on-year fare hikes are the inevitable result of a broken rail system in which the funds needed for rail improvements are wasted on bonuses for senior executives, company dividends and a pointless multi-million pound franchising process."

Train drivers' union Aslef said rail privatisation had "left us with a fragmented system which is all about making a private profit at public expense", while the RMT transport union described the January 2105 rise as "a kick in the teeth" for passengers.

Michael Roberts, director general of rail industry body the Rail Delivery Group, said: "Money from fares pays for more trains, better stations and faster services on what is already Europe's fastest-growing, safest and most-improved railway. Over the next five years, £38 billion will be invested in improving the network.

"Government decides the average change to regulated fares, including season tickets, each year. For a decade, successive governments have regulated commuter fares so as to increase the share of rail's costs paid by passengers rather than taxpayers.

"Our commitment is to enable future government fares decisions which work best for passengers, by continuing to get more out of every pound we spend and encouraging more train travel to pay for services and improvements."

Bruce Williamson, of the campaign group Railfuture, said: "Some fares could go up by as much as 5.5%. Compare that to people's real incomes, which are virtually stagnant, and you'll see how unfair these rises are.

"With an election on the horizon, I think it's likely that the Government will sweeten the pill with a smaller increase, but we need a longer-term fairer-fares policy."


From Belfast Telegraph