Loophole condemns rail commuters to increases in fares

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The Independent Online
Passengers on the privatised rail network were supposed to be saved from above-inflation fare rises. Randeep Ramesh, Transport Correspondent, explains why legislative small print will see thousands of London's commuters face increases of up to 10 per cent.

Travellers on one of the capital's busiest rail routes will see inflation-busting fare rises thanks to a loophole which allows train operators to claw back fare decreases implemented by British Rail in previous years.

The move came to light after the train firms run by the French industrial giant Connex sent details of the fares, to start in January next year, to passenger watchdogs.

Connex operates two commuter train companies, South Central and South Eastern, which ferry 160,000 passengers into and out of the capital every day. On average the company's South Central franchise will only raise fares by 4.5 per cent this year. However, passengers travelling from East Croydon and West Croydon to London will face the double-digit increase, and single fares from Wallington to Sutton will go up by 8.3 per cent.

Connex said the 10 per cent Croydon rise was within the fare adjusting regulations as the fare had actually been reduced in 1997 compared with previous years. Another company, Silverlink, will increase its Kensal Green to Central London peak single fare by 8 per cent. It said that 4 per cent of that rise was due to the fare increases levied by London Underground.

Despite the rises, the London Regional Passengers Committee (LRPC) does not blame the companies. Instead, Sir Alan Greengross, the committee's chairman, attacked the previous government for the fares "fiasco".

The Rail Users' Consultative Committee for Southern England was also critical, saying that many passengers faced 5 per cent increases "despite experiencing cancellations, overcrowding and short trains".

In October, train companies were allowed to put up tickets on lines which were performing well by as much as 2 per cent above July's inflation figure of 3.3 per cent. Some companies have decided not to raise fares. Thames Trains - which runs services from Oxford to London - will not increase ticket prices.

Passenger watchdogs called on ministers to act over the price rises. Rufus Barnes, secretary of the LRPC, said: "If the government is serious about getting people to use public transport then it should stop these sort of rises taking place."

The threat of industrial action on South West Trains ended yesterday when the Rail, Maritime and Transport union accepted a deal on hours and pay. The RMT said staff would work only a 37-hour week in January and receive a 4 per cent pay rise from 5 January - four months earlier than expected.

The price of rail travel

Oxted to London:

Seven-day season ticket rise - 9.1 per cent

Crystal Palace to London: return rise - 6.7 per cent

East Grinstead to London: single ticket - 7.6 per cent