Rail commuters facing 5.8% price rises

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The Independent Online

Rail commuters face the prospect of a hike of at least 5.8% in the price of season tickets in the new year following the announcement of today's inflation figures.

And the increase could be even more if, as some fear, the Government scraps the current annual price-rise formula.

Under the existing formula, train companies are allowed to raise regulated fares annually, which include season tickets, by 1% above whatever the previous July's retail price index (RPI) inflation figure is.

Today's RPI figure for July was 4.8%, which would mean a 5.8% fares rise in January 2011.

However, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond has said that he is not in a position to say whether the current RPI plus 1% formula will remain, meaning that fares could rise in excess of this 5.8% figure.

Ashwin Kumar, rail director of train customer watchdog Passenger Focus, said: "Passengers continue to tell us their top priority for improvement on the railway is better value for money.

"With the whole country feeling nervous about our economic prospects, passengers will expect train companies to show restraint next January. Now is not the time for train companies to sweat passengers off the train."

Passenger Focus said it would also like to see continue the policy of limiting the flexibility of train companies to increase fares on individual routes.

Mr Kumar went on: "In the past, the average fare rise has masked increases on some routes of 10 or 11%. We hope the Government continues to limit train companies' flexibility so passengers on some routes don't face double digit rises.

"Our research has shown that passengers in Britain already pay some of the highest commuter fares in Europe. For example, an annual season ticket for a journey such as Warrington to Manchester costs 60% more than an equivalent journey into Paris. Just because you can increase fares, does not mean you should - this is a time for restraint."

Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail Maritime and Transport union, said: "With fares expected to be jacked up through the roof in January there is no doubt that this Government is hell bent on ring-fencing the profits of the private operators while forcing passengers to pay through the nose to travel on over-crowded, under-resourced and unsafe services."



Regulated fares subject to the current RPI plus 1% price formula include not only season tickets but also some off-peak return journeys and account for around 40% of all fares.



The rest of the fares, classed as unregulated fares, are not subject to a price cap.



Travellers on trains run by the Southeastern rail company will face even higher rises in January as Southeastern is allowed to put up regulated fares by not 1% but 3% above the July RPI rate.



This is to take account of particular enhancements on Southeastern including the arrival of 140mph Japanese-built Javelin trains which run on the High Speed One Channel Tunnel link and which have reduced London to Kent journey times.



Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said: "It would normally be the case that next year's regulated train fares are calculated using July's inflation figure, plus one percent.



"But this is not a normal year. The scale of the financial crisis that we have inherited means that we will have to make some tough decisions in the spending review which concludes this autumn. I am therefore not yet in a position to determine next year's fare increase.



"It would be irresponsible, at a time when investment in the railway is under pressure, to rule anything out until the spending review is concluded."



A spokesperson for the Association of Train Operating Companies said: "Train companies understand that these are tough times for many. The Government is currently reviewing its position, so we will need to wait and see what happens.



"With demand for rail travel expected to double within the next 20 to 30 years, it is vital to sustain investment and the money raised from fares will make a significant contribution to improving services for passengers."



Rail union leader Gerry Doherty, leader of the TSSA transport union, urged Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg to stick to the Liberal Democrats' election manifesto pledge to limit the annual fare rise to RPI minus 1%.



Mr Doherty said: "Nick Clegg will let down millions of rail passengers if he fails to stop these unfair fare rises in the middle of a recession."



He added that it was important that rail companies were not "given the green light to once again pick the pockets of commuters in January".

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