UK commuters 'pay more for trains'


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The Independent Online

Some UK rail commuters, facing 6% average fare rises next week, are already paying almost 10 times more for their season tickets than their European counterparts, according to figures released today.

The price of a 2011 season ticket from Woking in Surrey to London, including Tube travel in the capital, is £3,268.

Yet a similar 22-mile journey from Velletri to Rome costs Italian season ticket holders £336.17, statistics from the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) showed.

Similar journeys of around 21-24 miles in other European countries reveal that rail travellers on the continent are paying far less for their trains.

According to the CBT figures, which include the equivalent of multi-modal travel tickets on each city's underground systems, an annual season for the 24-mile journey from Ballancourt-sur-Essonne to Paris costs £924.66.

The cost of a season ticket on the 21-mile Strausberg to Berlin route is £705.85, while the 22-mile Collado-Villalba to Madrid journey costs Spanish season ticket holders £653.74.

From January 2, UK regulated fares, which include season tickets, are rising by an average of 6%, with the overall average rise for all tickets being 5.9%.

The Government had planned to increase the annual price rise formula by 2% in January 2012, which would have meant regulated fares rising 8%.

Chancellor George Osborne announced last month that the the rise would be limited to 6%, but the Government still plans annual rises of RPI inflation plus 3% for January 2013 and January 2014.

CBT's public transport campaigner Sophie Allain said: "We knew we had some of the most expensive rail fares in Europe, if not the world, but even we were shocked by how much more the UK ticket was in comparison to our European counterparts.

"When the cost of season tickets is so much higher than other European capitals, the Government's fare rises are starting to affect the UK's competitiveness. That's why if the Government is serious about promoting economic growth it must also look at reducing planned fare rises in 2013 and 2014 as part of a policy to cut fares and make public transport truly affordable."

With UK train companies allowed to put up regulated fares by more than 6% as long as the average figure is not exceeded, some season tickets are going up by around 7% next week.

Also, a different annual price formula applies for the Northern train company's West Yorkshire Metro services, so some season tickets in this area are rising by more than 8%.

Bus and Tube fares in London will also be rising on January 2.

The average rise has been kept down to 5.6% thanks to an addition £136 million of government funding.

But the increase is still above the inflation rate and comes at a time when Londoners have to contend with constant weekend disruption to services due to planned improvement work.

The Government, the Association of Train Operating Companies and London mayor Boris Johnson have insisted that the fare rises are necessary to continue much-needed investment in main line rail and Tube services.

In London, work continues on the massive cross-capital Crossrail project as well as the Thameslink scheme.

Both involve considerable changes to busy stations and, inevitably, disruption to passengers. Blackfriars Tube station has been shut since March 2009 and will finally reopen at the end of February.

The Government is determined that fare-payers, rather than taxpayers, bear more of the cost of the railways, which suggests that high fares are set to continue in the short term.

On January 3 - the first working day on which the new fares will be in operation - the CBT will join transport union TSSA in a "fair fares" protest at St Pancras station in London.

Bob Crow, general secretary of transport union the RMT, said: "Here's more proof that UK passengers are getting robbed blind by a combination of train operator greed and Government incompetence that leaves the public paying through the nose for fragmented and overcrowded services."

Responding to the CBT figures, a spokesman for the Association of Train Operating Companies said: "This is a flimsy piece of research that does not stand up to scrutiny, focusing on just one season ticket out of tens of thousands available.

"Next year, the average commuter will pay just over £2,000 a year, or less than six pounds a day, to travel to work and back home again by train.

"In many other countries, the state chooses to subsidise the railways more heavily than in Britain.

"In this country, the long-standing government approach to sustain investment in the railways is to cut the contribution from taxpayers and increase the share paid by passengers."

A Department for Transport spokesman said: "We recognise the pressure on family budgets and that's why we announced that 2012 regulated rail fares will rise by an average of inflation plus 1%, not plus 3% as set out in the spending review.

"Revenue from fares is helping to deliver one of the biggest programmes of rail capacity improvements for 100 years, which will benefit passengers and stimulate economic growth - this includes 2,700 new carriages, a £900 million electrification programme and the delivery of major projects like Crossrail.

"Better value for fare-payers and taxpayers can only be achieved if the rail industry works together to reduce inefficiency, and we will be publishing our rail reform plans early next year."

Shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle said today: "UK rail commuters are taking a hit year after year after year, and all they are trying to do is to get to work."

Speaking on Sky News, she went on: "It does not have to be like this. We need to look at how the Europeans run their railways.

"The structure of our rail industry left to us (Labour) after (the Conservatives') privatisation led to the building in of extra costs."

It was put to Ms Eagle that Labour had had many years in power to try to sort things out.

She replied: "I don't think we did enough. I think we were too timid."

Asked if Labour was considering renationalising the railways, Ms Eagle said: "I have ruled nothing in and nothing out. We recognise that costs are too high."

She said that, for some, being involved in the railways was "a licence to print money".

These are just some of the annual season ticket fare rises that train passengers will face from January 2. These figures relate solely to the main line price and do not include the extra cost of a travel card for London Underground and London bus travel.

Leeds-Wakefield 2011: £840 2012: £908 + 8.09%

B.Stortford-London 2011: £3,100 2012: 3,320 + 7.09%

Northampton-London 2011: £4,448 2012: £4,756 + 6.92%

Portsmouth-London 2011: £3,920 2012: £4.060 + 3.57%

Basingstoke-London 2011: £3,580 2012: £3,792 + 5.90%

Ramsgate-London 2011: £4,376 2012: £4,640 + 6.03%

Folkestone-London 2011: £4,352 2012: £4,612 + 5.97%

Reading-London 2011: £3,584 2012: £3,800 + 6.02%

Peterborough-London 2011: £5,320 2012: £5,620 + 5.63%

Sevenoaks-London 2011: £2,816 2012: £2,980 + 5.82%

Aylesbury-London 2011: £3,340 2012: £3,520 + 5.38%

Cambridge-London 2011: £4,000 2012: £4,240 + 6.00%

Colchester-London 2011: £4,140 2012: £4,376 + 5.70%

Bedford-London 2011: £3,780 2012: £4,004 + 5.92%

Cheltenham Spa-London 2011: £8,312 2012: £8,812 + 6.01%

Hastings-London 2011: £3,956 2012: £4,136 + 4.95%