Destinations

Downside of rail privatization: UK ticket prices rise 50% in 10 years

Jan 02, 2013 1:05 am

Skift Take

The imperative for private rail companies is to deliver the best quarterly returns rather than deliver a service that ties together the social fabric of a nation, which is why England is constantly regretting its decision to abandon much of its rail system to privateers.

— Jason Clampet

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Rail fares for season ticket holders have risen by as much as 50% in the past decade making travelling to work by train an extravagance that growing numbers of people struggle to afford, according to campaigners.

Commuters returning to work after the Christmas break face average season tickets increases of 4.3% and an overall rise on ticket prices of 3.9%. But the Campaign for Better Transport says this is just the latest in a series of fare increases that is having an “appalling” impact on commuters.

Chief executive Stephen Joseph said: “It’s truly shocking that we have deliberately made getting the train to work an extravagance that many struggle to afford. The time has come not just to stop the rises but to reduce fares.”

CBT said its research showed that in the past decade London commuters have seen average season ticket costs increase by £1,300; fares grow 20% faster than wages; and average costs in real terms increasing by £360.

In the last 10 years rail fares had gone up significantly in all parts of England but that there were big differences between routes over that period. Annual fares from Sevenoaks in Kent to London have increased by nearly 90%, from £1,660 to £3,112; and from today, commuters travelling between Worcester and Birmingham Moor Street will pay £1,240 for a season ticket compared with £816 in 2003 – an increase of £424 or 52%.

The TUC said average train fares have risen nearly three times faster than average wages since the beginning of the recession in 2008. It said this “huge disparity” between fare and wage increases meant that a family of four travelling to London on an anytime ticket from Swansea, Plymouth, Leeds, Manchester or Newcastle in 2013 would have to pay more than the average weekly wage of £481.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “At a time when real wages are falling and household budgets are being squeezed, rail travellers are being forced to endure yet another year of inflation-busting fare increases.

“As well as having to shell out record amounts of money for their tickets, passengers also face the prospect of travelling on trains with fewer staff and having less access to ticket offices. They are being asked to pay much more for less.”

Michael Roberts, chief executive of the Association of Train Operating Companies, blamed the government. “Ministers want passengers to pay a larger share of railway running costs to reduce the contribution from taxpayers while sustaining investment in better stations, new trains and faster services.”

Transport minister Norman Baker said: “We are engaged in the biggest rail investment programme since the 19th century and it is only right that the passenger, as well as the taxpayer, contributes towards that. In the longer term we are determined to reduce the cost of running the railways so we can end the era of above inflation fare rises.”

Labour said it would impose a “strict” cap on future rail fare rises, accusing the prime minister David Cameron of misleading commuters. The government had intended to allow train companies to raise the average price of regulated fares – which include season tickets – by retail prices inflation plus 3% this and next January.

In October Cameron announced it would instead be limited to RPI plus 1% – a 4.2% rise. However, Labour said the government had undermined its pledge by reinstating flexibility, allowing firms to raise non-regulated fares.

Shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle said: “David Cameron misled commuters when he promised to cap fare rises at 1% above inflation. Many commuters have faced a nasty New Year shock as they discover fares have gone up by as much as 9.2% … Labour would strictly enforce the fare cap on every route and restore the ban on train companies imposing higher increases.”

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