The rail fare rise, which was announced by industry body Rail Delivery Group in November last year, was implemented from 2 January where commuters had to pay 2.7% more for a season, return or single ticket.
An off-peak return ticket from Dundee to Edinburgh, for instance, has increased in price by 50p to £29.40, and an anytime return ticket from Gillingham to London via the HS1 route is up £1.20 to £45.40.
Annual season ticket holders too witnessed a significant increase of more than £100 despite less than two-thirds of trains being on time last year. Annual fares for Reading to London hiked by £132 costing £4,736 and those travelling from Gloucester to Birmingham saw an increase by £118 now costing £4,356.
The increase in fares, including season tickets, is regulated by the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments which uses the previous July’s Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure of inflation to determine increases in regulated fares.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the government was committed to “putting passengers first”, by using the extra money for funding trials for flexible fares, for example.
Campaigners demand fare cuts and an end to privatisation
The fare hike sparked demonstrations in the UK with campaigners and rail travellers protesting outside train stations across the UK on 2 January urging the government to “cut fares”.
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Commenting on the rail fare rise Trades Union Congress (TUC) general secretary Frances O’Grady called on the UK Government to place the control of the rail in the hands of the public. He said: “No more excuses – the government must end the failed privatisation. This would free up money for much-needed upgrades and lower ticket prices for working people.
“Working people have had enough of over-crowded and unreliable services.”
The union organisation said that the fare rise “cannot be justified” as private rail companies have paid more than £1.2bn in dividends to shareholders in the last five years.
Unite’s national officer for the rail industry, Harish Patel said: “Every year, as regular as clockwork, rail travellers receive the post-Christmas slap in the face with daylight robbery rail fare increases.
“If Boris Johnson’s newly-minted affection for working people means anything at all, he would be taking the rip-off privately owned rail companies by the scruff of the neck and bringing them back into public ownership in the name of his so-called ‘people’s government’.”
Echoing a similar sentiment Labour’s shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald accused the government of failing to support public transport and that passengers were “once again paying more for less under the Tories”.
He said: “It shows that this government is not serious about supporting either public transport or tackling climate change, road congestion or air quality.”
Fare rises outstrip income
A new report by the TUC said that since 2009, fares for commuters have risen by 46% whereas the average weekly wage has only risen 23%.
Responding to the new fares, Railfuture’s Bruce Williamson said fares are “outstripping people’s incomes”.
He said: “Welcome to another decade of misery for rail passengers.
Williamson is hardly alone. Independent watchdog Transport Focus’ director David Sidebottom urged rail companies to deliver a better service to encourage more people to use public transport.
Sidebottom said: “We speak to thousands of passengers each year and we know that less than half feel they get value for money. After a year of pretty poor performance in some areas passengers just want a consistent day-to-day service they can rely on and a better chance of getting a seat.”
He urged passengers to “offset the cost of the fare rises” by claiming compensation for every eligible delay.
Campaign for Better Transport’s chief executive Darren Shirley said: “Rail passengers are tired of rising fares and broken promises. It’s time for a complete overhaul of the fares system and a fairer way to calculate future level.
“Only total reform will start to restore passengers’ faith in the rail network, and ensure the railways are more affordable and better value for passengers.”
Association of British Commuters’ co-founder Emily Yates said the annual rises feel like “Groundhog Day” and a “complete charade”.
“Every year, we ask for a fares freeze, the government says no, and the rail industry defends the decision,” she said.
Highest fees in Europe put sustainability goals at risk, say campaigners
The TUC report also said that UK commuters spend more than seven times as much on season tickets as their European equivalents. For instance, travellers going from Chelmsford to London earning an average monthly salary of £3,170 will need to spend £511 a month for season tickets which is 16% of their pay.
However, commutes would cost 2% of the average salary in France and 4% in Germany and Belgium, the report said.
On 1 January, German rail company Deutsche Bahn announced that it will slash rail fares by 10% for long-distance travel to encourage people to use the train as part of its sustainability strategy.
Williamson says that unlike Germany if the UK fails to implement lower fares, people will be more likely to use cars, therefore, harming the environment. “The higher fares are all controlled by the government and by doing so the country is lagging behind in sustainability,” he added.
“How on earth is the government going to meet its climate commitments by pricing people off environmentally-friendly trains and on to our polluted and congested roads?”
But fare increases enable investment, says government
Minister Shapps told BBC Breakfast in an interview on 2 January that the fare increases enabled investment in the railways that would yield improvements. He added that the government is committed to “putting passengers first” by funding initiatives such as trials for flexible fares among others.
“You can judge me on this at the end of the year,” Shapps said. “These changes are going to take time but I think people will see things moving in the right direction.”
Shapps unveiled a new fares trial on Govia Thameslink Railway services which will give passengers on certain routes the opportunity to buy better value tickets aimed at part-time workers.
Rail Delivery Group chief executive Paul Plummer said the extra money was allowing the train companies to invest in improvements to the network, including 1,000 extra services a week in 2020. He said that 98p in every pound from fares went towards the cost of running the railway and to improve the services for commuters.
Plummer added: “The industry will continue to push for changes to fare regulations to enable a better range of affordable, mix-and-match fares and reduced overcrowding on some of the busiest routes.”
The Department for Transport will set out reforms of the railways in a white paper, responding to recommendations of the Government-commissioned Rail Review led by former British Airways boss Keith Williams.