Discontent rises over rail fares

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PEOPLE are increasingly dissatisfied with the level of prices and fares in public services, according to a poll published today. Most criticism is levelled at rises in British Rail fares.

A survey by Mori for the National Consumer Council found that across a wide range of services - rail, bus, telephone, water and gas - discontent with prices is substantially higher than in a similar survey three years ago.

The council says the results augur poorly for rail privatisation. Lady Wilcox, its chairman, said: 'With current uncertainty about how high rail fares will be after privatisation, the Government should take very serious note of the steep rise in the percentage of rail passengers who say that rail fares are unreasonable.' Fifty-nine per cent of rail passengers think rail fares are very or fairly unreasonable, compared with 47 per cent in 1990.

Figures for other services are: 32 per cent for bus (26 per cent in 1990); 55 per cent for British Telecom (45 per cent); 46 per cent for water (37); and 29 per cent for gas (25). Thirty-nine per cent of customers thought electricity prices were unreasonable, roughly the same percentage as in 1990.

British Rail and the water companies scored worst for pleasing their customers. According to the NCC, the survey shows that the quality of customer service does not depend upon who owns it.

The state-owned Post Office, for example, scores higher than the privatised utilities. However, British Rail scores worse than bus and coach companies, most of which are privately owned.