POLITICS
13/08/2018 13:24 BST | Updated 13/08/2018 18:50 BST

Northern Mayors Andy Burnham And Steve Rotheram Demand Rail Fares Freeze Amid Commuter Chaos

'To ask these long-suffering passengers now to pay even more for a poor, unreliable service is to add insult to injury.'

Rail passengers forced to endure months of cancellations and timetable chaos should have their fares frozen, the mayors of Liverpool and Manchester have demanded.

Steve Rotheram and Andy Burnham have written to the under-fire transport secretary, Chris Grayling, to ask him to protect people travelling on Northern and Transpennine services from proposed fare rises. 

Usually, fare increases are set using the retail price index rate in July, published in August, with the hike coming into effect the following January. 

It is thought passengers travelling into Liverpool could be expected to pay as much as £110 more for an annual season ticket and that, by season ticket, routes into Manchester city centre could climb by £45.

But Labour mayors Rotheram and Burnham say passengers should not have to fork out more to travel as a botched timetable shake-up in May has led to a dire service on both lines, resulting in severe delays, cancellations and travel chaos that has stretched on for more than a month. 

A breakdown of the potential fares rises based on RPI
A breakdown of the potential fares rises based on RPI
fares rises
A breakdown of the potential fares rises based on RPI

Their letter to Grayling reads: “Over the past few months travelling by train in the North has become a lottery, where passengers turn up at stations with no idea if there will be a train or whether they will arrive at their destination on time.

“This crisis has caused real damage to the North – the current estimate is that at least £38m has been lost from the economy – and has led to many commuters turning their backs on using the train and seeking other means of getting around.”

PA Wire/PA Images

Grayling came under intense pressure to resign after the extent of the rail chaos became clear in May, with critics saying the minister failed to ensure operators had done sufficient planning for the timetable switch. 

The minister, however, issued a joint apology with operators and secured Theresa May’s backing to survive in post. 

The two northern mayors argue a freeze could help attract back passengers to the railways who have turned their back on rail travel in recent months. 

They also say that a price freeze is proportionate given the disruption on both networks and delays in planned service upgrades.  

Grayling letter
Grayling letter

Speaking about the letter, Rotheram said a fares freeze would restore confidence, adding: “After a summer of misery – and with cancellations and disruption still continuing – introducing higher fares next year would be a huge slap in the face to the travelling public here in the North.

“With service improvements postponed until May 2019 and no guarantees from the rail operators that they can sort out the current mess anytime soon, it would be wrong to ask people to pay more, for less.” 

On Sunday, rail operator Northern cancelled 80 services, including trains on the Liverpool to Manchester Airport line used by families heading abroad for their summer holidays. 

Burnham added: “To ask these long-suffering passengers now to pay even more for a poor, unreliable service is to add insult to injury. A freeze in the current fares is the very least that passengers deserve.”

The demand is the latest in a series of interventions by the Mayors which has seen them call for compensation for passengers affected by disruption and back TFNs call last week for the Government to appoint a trouble-shooter to get to grips with the ongoing crisis.

A Department for Transport spokeswoman said there were no plans to introduce a fares freeze.

She 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 £4bn a year – meaning that 38% of our transport budget is spent on the 2% of journeys that the railway accounts for.

“Following government intervention, Northern has gradually introduced more services and reliability has improved. There is clearly much more to do and a comprehensive compensation scheme has been established for those affected by the timetable problems.

“The disruption endured earlier this summer was totally unacceptable. We have established an independent inquiry to identify what went wrong to ensure it does not happen again.”