POLITICS

Train Passengers To Suffer Another Rail Fare Hike In 2015

19/08/2014 07:45 BST | Updated 19/08/2014 11:59 BST

Rail passengers will suffer yet another price hike from January 2015, with some fares set to go up by as much as 5.5%.

The new-year rise, means that fares will have increased over this Parliament by just below 25%, according to the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT). The increase, determined by the RPI inflation figure, means that rail fares are soaring four times faster than wages, which only soared by 0.6% in the three months to June.

Shadow transport secretary Mary Creagh will warn today of a further rise of 24% by 2018 should the Conservatives stay in power.

July's RPI inflation figure, on which the January rise in season tickets is based, fell from 2.6% to 2.5%, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The current annual price-rise formula is for regulated fares, which include season tickets, to rise by the rate of RPI plus 1%, which will see average fares going up around 3.5% with RPI slipping to 2.5%.

Train companies also have a "flex" rule which allows them to raise 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 by around 5.5% in the new year.

Chancellor George Osborne is expected to come under pressure to limit the incoming rail fare rise, after keeping the average increase this year to 3.1% in his last Autumn Statement.

Commenting on the fares hike, Creagh said: "David Cameron has failed to stand up for working people struggling with the cost-of-living crisis. He's 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."

In a speech in London, Creagh will also say: "Our rail fares are among the highest in Europe. Rail passengers rightly feel ripped off when they are uncertain if they paid the lowest fare.

"Labour will create a legal right to the cheapest ticket for your journey, ending the confusion passengers experience. We will introduce a strict cap on rail fares, removing the 'flex' arrangement that allows train companies to raise fares more on some routes."

Creagh will add that Labour would reform the railways to get a better deal for taxpayers and passengers. This would include legislating to allow a public sector operator to run lines, reviewing the franchise system and simplifying the fares structure.

CBT public transport campaigner Martin Abrams said: "With people's wages stagnating and in some cases falling, the expense of taking the train to work has become a huge part of living costs.

"If the Government doesn't put an end to above-inflation fare increases quickly, ordinary commuters will be priced off the train and could be forced into agonising decisions such as moving house or quitting their jobs."

Unions forming the TUC's campaign group Action for Rail are holding demonstrations today at rail stations across the country.

Mick Cash, acting general secretary of the RMT transport union, said passengers were "being lined up for an inflation-busting increase in their fares".

Meanwhile, the government has promised train passengers in the North of England a "world-class rail network" as it unveiled the shortlist of companies that would run future services in the region.

Three operators have been shortlisted for the Northern rail franchise and three for the TransPennine Express (TPE) franchise, with the winners due to be announced on October 2015.

The Campaign for Better Transport and the RMT transport union have expressed concern that rail services in northern England could be cut.

But announcing the shortlists today, Rail Minister Claire Perry said the competing companies would be asked "to come up with innovative and ambitious proposals that will ensure a truly world-class rail network for the region".

The government added that the franchise bidders would need to improve customer service and passenger satisfaction on the two networks which carry more than 110 million passengers last year.

The franchises connect passengers travelling into and between the key strategic cities of Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester and Newcastle, and onwards to Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Those competing for the Northern franchise are Abellio, which is currently running Northern, Arriva and Govia. The three shortlisted for TPE are FirstGroup, Keolis and Stagecoach. FirstGroup and Keolis currently operate TPE in a joint venture.

The Government said bidders will be expected to show how they will make the most of the Government's £1 billion investment programme for the rail network in the North of England, which will provide faster and more reliable journeys, more capacity, better trains and improved connections for passengers across the region.