Train users will be hit by another rise in ticket prices next year, with average rail fares due to increase by up to 2.8 per cent.
The Rail Delivery Group (RDG) ties fare rises to the Retail Prices Index (Retail price index - a widely used measure of inflation in the UK) inflation measure, which for July was 2.8 per cent.
According to the BBC, this means many commuters will likely see an increase of more than £100 in the annual cost to get to work.
Average rail fares increased by 3.1 per cent this January, causing outrage among passengers who experienced weeks of disruption in the wake of a timetable change in May 2018.
Passenger rights groups such as the Campaign for Better Transport have repeatedly called for rail fares to be tied to the lower Consumer Prices Index (CPI), which is the more widely used measure of inflation and came in at 2.1 per cent in July.
CBT chief executive Darren Shirley said: “The government should commit now to January’s fares rise being linked to CPI.”
However, Robert Nisbet, director of nations and regions for RDG, said: “No one wants to pay more to get to work but by holding rises down to no more than inflation, money from fares will continue to cover almost all of the day-to-day costs of running rail services. This means private sector and taxpayer money can go towards improving services for the long term.”
Nisbet added: “Rail users across the country are already seeing and feeling the benefits of this investment, with new trains and more services running across the country. People want simpler, better value fares and we want to work with government to deliver our proposals for reforming today’s outdated system to make fares easier for all.”
And rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris commented: “It’s tempting to suggest fares should never rise. However, the truth is that if we stop investing in our railway, then we will never see it improved.”
But the TUC trade union said rail fares have risen “at twice the speed of wages since 2009” at 46 per cent compared to 23 per cent and claimed taxpayers handed £3.8 billion to operators in 2018, an increase of 8 per cent. It also pointed out that train companies paid out £200 million in dividends to their shareholders in 2017/18, a rise of 6.5 per cent over the last five years.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady renewed the union’s call to renationalise the railways, saying: “Every penny from every single fare should be invested into our railways. This would free up money for much-needed upgrades and lower ticket prices.
“The number one priority should be running a world-class railway service, not subsidising private train companies.”
Raj Sachdave, managing partner at consultancy Black Box Partnerships, commented: “The annual lambasting for train operators is about to commence, once again, however let’s step back… parking the Retail price index - a widely used measure of inflation in the UK v CPI debate to better understand why the annual increase exists in the first place.
“It’s driven by UK government (the Department for Transport: The UK government department responsible for the English transport network, as well as transport matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that are not devolved.) and its franchising policy to apply an inflationary increase to rail fares under today’s franchising mandate. To be fair (and some would say pragmatic), franchise holders are simply doing what they are told, under their obligations. We feel industry voices need to be sharper and clearer at calling out why this policy exists and how it impacts travellers, financially and emotionally.
“With the Williams Review in play and a new secretary of state for transport, Grant Shapps, there needs to be smarter future policy on the inflationary measures (amongst others), reflected in the outputs of the Williams Review.
“Some good news that the rail industry is pressing ahead with smarter allocation of season ticket fares and products that reflect how commuters travel, with flexible and remote working on the increase – this is not a quick win though.
“So let’s hear industry groups further unify with their members, working alongside passenger groups and TMCs and address this head on with the Department for Transport: The UK government department responsible for the English transport network, as well as transport matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that are not devolved.. The franchising model hurts every year for loyal passengers. That’s a broken strategy and you don’t need a review to tell you that!”
RDG proposed a “radical” fares reform as part of the Williams Review, but its recommendations were focused on making it easier for passengers to ensure they are getting the best value fare for their journey rather than lowering prices.