BR wants 16% rise in fares: Commuters pay for privatisation

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The Independent Online
BRITISH RAIL plans to increase some rail fares in the South-east by more than 16 per cent in January as part of a special pre-privatisation price hike, according to leaked figures.

London travelcards would rise by 16.2 per cent - more than 11 times the current rate of inflation - standard single fares by 12 per cent and season tickets 7.9 per cent under BR's preferred option. The increase would bring in an extra pounds 54m.

The money is needed to meet a pounds 25m shortfall in the amount of revenue the Government required Network SouthEast to make next year. If this plan is vetoed by ministers fearful of its effect in London where local elections are due in May, Network SouthEast wants travelcards to go up by 10.3 per cent, standard single fares by 12 per cent and season tickets by 8.5 per cent. This would raise the same amount.

The higher prices would outrage passengers in the Tory commuter heartlands and add to growing pressure on the Government to rethink its privatisation plans.

Under a third 'worst case' plan, travelcards would rise by 6.3 per cent, standard single fares by 8 per cent and season tickets by 6 per cent. This would leave an pounds 11m shortfall - pounds 29m is set aside for inflation - making cuts in services inevitable.

Some of the details have been leaked to the pressure group Transport 2000. A separate survey by the organisation has revealed that BR is planning Sunday cuts on branch lines throughout the country.

Further fare increases are expected after April when the full costs of privatisation begin to bite. BR wants the new increases to take effect from 1 January, but the Independent on Sunday understands that it has applied to Roger Salmon, the franchising director for privatisation, to introduce the season ticket rises in December. Because most people renew their tickets in January, they would have to buy them at the higher prices.

BR officials want the first option because they believe it important to increase significantly the price of travelcards - which allow use of rail, tube and buses - before privatisation. They think the card is underpriced and fear the privatised companies would want to push up its cost or scrap it.

Brian Wilson, Labour's transport spokesman, said: 'These are very high interim increases which would be followed by others later in the year to pay for the cost of privatisation. It's now inescapably obvious that privatisation will send fares soaring.'

Critics say that the BR plans show that taxpayers and passengers, not the private sector, are paying for the sell-off. John MacGregor, the Secretary of State for Transport, has told Parliament that privatisation will reduce fares and improve services.

This pledge is contradicted by the findings made by Transport 2000. It has discovered that many branches will lose Sunday services in the new autumn timetables. This includes all the stations in Cambridgeshire on the Cambridge to London line; Norwich to Cromer, Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft; and from Derby to Matlock. Lines on the Isle of Wight and between Shrewsbury and Aberystwyth, are also under threat. Further services are expected to be axed as more timetables are published.

In April the Government proposes to start breaking BR up into 25 'shadow' franchises, which will eventually be run as separate companies. Costs for the preparation for privatisation have been estimated at pounds 200m.

A spokesman for Network SouthEast said: 'At this time of year various options for fare rises are discussed - it's almost certain that some of the options (from the leaked document) are currently being considered.'

The revelations come as the Government faces a renewed Commons revolt over the BR privatisation bill. Mr MacGregor faces the daunting task of reversing the Lords amendments to the bill - including a crucial one which would allow BR to bid for the new franchises.

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