Campaigners across the country have rallied in their masses at over 40 train stations across the country to denounce the rising cost of train fares above inflation, as data regarding the forthcoming train price reform for 2015 is announced on Tuesday.
For years now fares have been rising steeply, outstripping wage increases by almost four to one, and the public have made it clear they are done waiting for Godot; there has been little evidenced by the National Rail to suggest that consequential reform is being undertaken with the proceeds from the over-inflated increases in train fares ñ rather the reality remains that, following the pending price hike, mean train fares will have soared by 25% under the Coaltionsí regime.
Average wages in the same time frame have increased by a comparatively meagre 6.9%, and data collected by the Campaign for Better Transport showed that regular commuters are parting with a fifth of their income on tickets, further underlining how financially onerous transport has become, second only to housing costs in terms of income-consumption. Train fares for the new year are calculated by adding 1% to Julyís Retail Price Index (RPI) figure, which stands at 2.5% This is a capped value, and would not be able to increase any further, however due to the ëflexí option, private train companies are permitted to add another 2% to certain fares, whilst only having to ensure the average across all train fares remains at 1% over the RPI. As such, many commuters could find themselves forking out daily fares priced 5.5% higher than they are at present.
Labourís counteracting reformatory measures –
Labourís shadow transport secretary, Mary Creagh, is due to give a speech to engineers in London, and is expected to utilise the unease felt by the public regarding train fare increases to further her partyís cause.
Ms. Creagh has said: ìWe 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.”
Ms. Creagh has outlined plans to create a unifying rail authority through the amalgamation of Network Rail with a passenger-run rail association. It is hoped the new rail authority would give a wide-ranging view on the way in which train services, notably fares, are handled in the future. Additionally, Labour has committed to legislature which would necessitate rail providers to sell the cheapest possible ticket to passengers, as data has shown that many travellers overpay due to their misunderstanding of the options available to them.
Perhaps most pertinently, Ms. Creagh was resolute in her intentions to eradicate the flex ruling, which will be much welcomed by passengers across the UK as fares have soared above inflation, under the Coalitionís flex rule, on some of the most in-demand routes across the UK.
In her speech to engineers today, Miss Creagh is expected to say: ììOur rail fares are among the highest in Europe. Rail passengers rightly feel ripped off when they are uncertain if they paid the lowest fare.
ìLabour will create a legal right to the cheapest ticket for your journey, ending the confusion passengersí experience. We will introduce a strict cap on rail fares, removing the ìflexî arrangement that allows train companies to raise fares more on some routes.”
However, it would be harsh to state the Coalition have been idle when addressing consumer fears in the past. Last year George Osborne spread out the safety blanket himself, capping the rail providersí degree of flexibility from 5% to 2%. Regular commuters, in particular, will be hoping the Chancellor intervenes once more to prevent passengers across the UK being subjected to the exorbitant costs in prospect.
David Sidebottom, director of consumer rail research group Passenger Focus, echoed this viewpoint, highlighting the angst felt by passengers at this precarious time.
He asserted: “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. “Martin Abrams, representative of the Campaign for Better Transport, 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.”