'Turn up and go' train fares go up by 300%

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The Independent Online

Large, often hidden increases in train fares are deterring passengers and undermining government attempts to cut car use, according to unpublished research.

Large, often hidden increases in train fares are deterring passengers and undermining government attempts to cut car use, according to unpublished research.

The cost of travelling on some services has soared by up to 300 per cent in four years. Train operators have pushed up prices of "turn up and go" tickets by far more than inflation and reduced services for which cheaper tickets are valid.

Rail travel is 40 per cent more costly in real terms than 30 years ago, a study for the Rail Passengers' Council (RPC) shows. Since privatisation in 1996 the average cost of SuperSavers - once one of the most popular "walk-on" tickets - has risen 20 per cent. In contrast, the average cost of a standard-class Apex ticket, which has to be bought in advance, has risen 3 per cent - a small reduction in real terms.

Operators prefer advance booking because all the money goes to the individual operator. "Turn up and go" revenue is shared between operators.

The paper, entitled "Are Passengers Getting Value for Money?", says InterCity passengers have seen the biggest rises in walk-on fares - particularly from Great North Eastern Railway (GNER), the London-to-Edinburgh operator; Virgin West Coast, which runs services between London and Glasgow; and Virgin Cross Country.

Someone travelling between London and Liverpool in 1996 paid £35 for a SuperSaver. Now a passenger would pay £140 for the walk-on Standard Open Return, a 300 per cent increase.

Stewart Francis, the council chairman, said there was now less need for operators to raise the cost of instant travel after the Government said £60bn would be invested in rail in the next 10 years. He said: "Higher fares on many parts of the network are in danger of undermining the Government's attempts to fight congestion and tackle the social exclusion that occurs when transport becomes unaffordable for low income groups."

The document says that because the Government restricts increases in regulated fares to the Retail Price Index minus 1 percentage point, companies have sought to compensate by pushing through much higher rises in unregulated fares.

The researchers analysed2,300 ticket prices and found that the average rise in fares over the four-year period was 15 per cent, compared with an inflation rate of 11 per cent.

Virgin Trains said it had to recoup millions of pounds of investment through its fares. A spokesman said that there had been a 20 per cent rise in the number of passengers it carried since privatisation. GNER said walk-on fares at peak times had risen to relieve overcrowding.

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