Unhappy new year for commuters with fare rises and delays

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The Independent Online

Thousands of commuters returning to work today after the Christmas break face a miserable journey, with a series of major roadworks, a 25 per cent rise in some Tube fares and a hike in the cost of train journeys making the resumption of the daily grind more painful than usual.

Thousands of commuters returning to work today after the Christmas break face a miserable journey, with a series of major roadworks, a 25 per cent rise in some Tube fares and a hike in the cost of train journeys making the resumption of the daily grind more painful than usual.

On the roads, long-term lane-widening work is expected to start this morning on the busiest section of Britain's most-congested motorway, the M25. The work is scheduled to take place on the western section of the London orbital road, including Heathrow and the junction with the M4.

The M62 in West Yorkshire, between junctions 32 and 33 is undergoing bridge maintenance, resulting in a 50 mph speed limit. Work on the A1 at Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire, is expected to resume today.

There will be further rush-hour delays between junctions 19 and 20 of the M5 near Bristol, due to lane closures. Resurfacing work is scheduled in Greater Manchester on the M58 at the M6 interchange,

"The first day back after the Christmas break is traditionally the busiest day of the year for breakdowns," said Nigel Paget, the director of roadside operations at the RAC.

"Monday 6 January 2003, was our 17th busiest day in the last 10 years with 15,000 breakdowns and [today] is likely to be just as busy."

For many, the alternative of using public transport will be no more appetising. Despite the fact that one in five trains continues to fail to run on time, commuter fares will rise today by well above rate of inflation. While the average ticket price will rise by 4.1 per cent, some fares will increase by as much as 9 per cent.

The increases were described as essential by train companies in order to carry out much-needed improvements but were condemned by passenger organisations as an unsavoury legacy of privatisation.

"Rail commuters will have to pay more for the privilege of travelling to and from work with a one in five chance of being late, thanks to the workings of the privatised rail system," said Cynthia Hay, spokeswoman for the London pressure group Capital Transport Campaign.

Caroline Jones, of the Rail Passengers' Council, added: "Passengers are not happy with performance, they're not happy with the state of trains and they're not happy with the cost of their tickets."

Commuters using the London Underground for the first time since the festive break also face a significant price hike.

Single tickets in zone 1 increase from £1.60 to £2, while bus fares in outer zones rise from 70p to £1 for cash-paying customers.

The new fares were justified by Ken Livingstone, the London Mayor, as a way of encouraging people to use pre-paid tickets, which will help cut queues at Tube stations and speed up bus journeys.

The only passengers exempt from the new prices are those with an Oyster smartcard, which has a pre-pay facility and enables passengers to travel at 2003 prices.

The rises were announced after a £64m shortfall was found in the Mayor's transport budget, caused by revenue from the congestion-charging scheme being lower than anticipated.

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