Transport secretary Grant Shapps has said he was “not delighted” about increasing rail fares, but defended the link to inflation – saying that increasing ticket prices by less would mean investing less money into the system.
Rail commuters are set to face an increase in many ticket costs next year of almost 3 per cent, despite widespread public dissatisfaction about quality of service across much of the country.
Regulated rail fares, which include season tickets, are pegged to July’s rate of Retail Prices Index (RPI) inflation, which was announced by the Office for National Statistics as 2.8 per cent on Wednesday.
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Mr Shapps told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme earlier on Wednesday: “I’m not delighted by it, to be perfectly honest, as a train commuter.
“The truth is we do now have a situation where average wages are going up faster than inflation, so if you don’t keep this tracking with inflation you are actually effectively putting less money into transport and less money into trains and you won’t get them running on time doing that either.”
His comments were echoed by rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris, who told the BBC: “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.
The UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments regulate rises in around half of fares, including season tickets on most commuter routes, some off-peak return tickets on long-distance journeys and tickets for travel around major cities at any time.
A cap on how much they can be increased is pegged to the July RPI figure, except for off-peak fares in Scotland for which RPI-1 per cent is used.
Rail regulator the Office of Rail and Road said regulated fares went up by an average of 2.8 per cent in January this year, following the July 2018 RPI figure of 3.2 per cent.
A 2.8 per cent rise in season ticket prices would lead to an increase of more than £100 in the annual cost of getting to work for many commuters.
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Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said: “Every year commuters are being asked to pay more money for bad train services.
“The Government has sat back and allowed private train companies to cash in while people’s pay has been held back. Continuous fare rises undermine urgent action to tackle the climate emergency by pricing people off the railways.
“Labour will bring our railways into public ownership so they are run in the interests of passengers, not private profit.”
Research by passenger watchdog Transport Focus shows that fewer than a third (30 per cent) of rail commuters are satisfied with the value for money of their ticket.
The organisation’s director David Sidebottom said:” Transport Focus believes it’s time for a fairer, clearer fares formula based on calculations that use the Consumer Prices Index, rather than the discredited Retail Price Index.
“After recent disruption and a lot of misery over last winter, rail operators still have a great deal to improve.”
Bruce Williamson, spokesman for campaign group Railfuture, said: “It might be that we’ve now reached the point where we cannot simply put fares up and expect passengers to take the hit.