Simon Read: Inflation is riding the slow train. So why have we been given a one-way ticket to travel on the fares express?


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The Independent Online

I struck a chord with many of you when I wrote a piece earlier this week about rising train fares. It seems there is an army of travellers who feel they've been ripped off by increased transport costs.

My attention was drawn to the anger of reader Nick Royle, who was shocked to discover that his regular rail ticket has gone up in price this month by 20 per cent. "Normally I travel from Manchester to London on Monday or Tuesday and return next day," he explains.

Being a regular reader, Nick is savvy with his money and books far ahead to get the best deal. "Booking 12 weeks ahead, I almost always get the cheapest advance tickets, which last year were £12.50. Now, according to Virgin Trains, they're £15. So that's a 20 per cent rise."

Let's consider that. Inflation is currently 1 per cent. So a 20 per cent rise is way above inflation and seems unfair. Is it justified?

Here's what Virgin Trains says on the issue: "Twenty per cent represents an increase of just £2.50, and even at the new fare of £15, we believe this still represents excellent value. Many of our advanced fares from Manchester have remained the same or come down, including our three most popular advanced fares, which have all been reduced, by as much as 7.4 per cent." Overall, the rail company says its fares have increased by just 1.4 per cent, which is significantly below the industry average of 2.2 per cent.

So the rise is just £2.50 – what's to complain about? This: it all adds up. "That's an extra fiver a trip, seeing as I always get a return," Nick points out. Over 12 weeks the extra is £60, and over the next year he will have to stump up an extra £250 or so.

He's not alone in being fed up with outrageous hikes in travel costs. Simon Edwards of Croydon says he was stunned this week to find that the cost of an off-peak Travelcard into London had gone up from £8.90 to £12 overnight. "Even the lady in the ticket office thought it was totally unfair," he reports.

"I'm disgusted and not a little frustrated. Public transport should be an essential service and not run for profit. It just seems like the public are being utterly exploited."

Meanwhile Ray Weaver reports that his regular fare has climbed more than 30 per cent. "The off-peak one-day Travelcard for a senior citizen travelling from Borehamwood [in Hertfordshire] to London has gone up from £5.90 in December to £7.90 now," he reports. That works out as an increase of 34 per cent.

Marlene Winston reports the same hefty increase in her Travelcard from Elstree in Hertfordshire to Borehamwood. "I wonder what is the reason for this is?" she asks.

Good question. I put it to the Rail Delivery Group, which represents rail operators and Network Rail. Michael Roberts, its director-general, said: "At 2.2 per cent, the average increase in fares in 2015 is the lowest for five years. We understand no one likes to pay more, especially to go to work. For every pound spent on fares, 97p goes on track, train, staff and other costs, while 3p goes in profits earned by train companies."

The rail groups have us over a barrel. They know that many of us need to use their services and, while average increases of 2.2 per cent seem fair, many passengers have been penalised with exorbitant and unnecessary rises. What makes it most galling is that there seems to be nothing we can do about it.

twitter: @simonnread

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