Pressure mounts on government to freeze rail fares with 3.5% rise in prices expected

Rail passengers across the country are set to feel aggrieved with rail prices predicted to rise by 3.5% from January – despite months and months of delays and cancellations on a number of train services.

Commuters are being warned of the price hikes which are set to start in 2019 and could mean passengers on some longer distance routes paying up to £150 more each year for their travel. Exact rises in ticket costs will not be known though until Wednesday (15 Auguest) when the July Retail Prices Index (RPI) consumer inflation measure is released by the Office for National Statistics.

However, economists are predicting that the RPI measure of inflation used by the Department for Transport to set rail fare increases will increase by 3.5%. It would follow the 3.6% hike that was felt by passengers at the start of the year. This was the biggest jump in rail prices for five years.

Commuters are bound to be angered by the expected announcement after an overhaul of rail timetables in May led to a summer of rail chaos with disrupted services on Northern, Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern. It led to all four introducing some sort of reduced service in a bid to combat changes.

The Labour Party is urging the government to freeze rail fares for next year on Govia Thameslink, Arriva Rail North and First Transpennine Express services with the three operators impacted the most by timetable changes.

The Campaign for Better Transport has also called a freeze fare. "Given the mess surrounding the new timetable, the lack of improvements and the failure to deliver compensation. the government cannot go on telling passengers that fare increases are justified," a spokesperson said.

Rail campaigners believe a different measure of inflation should be used to determine any increases in the form of the Consumer Prices Index, which does not take into account the cost of mortgage payments and tends to be lower than RPI.

Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association, said: “Justice for passengers means dropping the annual rip-off rise and also simplifying the Byzantine fare structure which privatisation has imposed. Better still, end this costly farce. Put passengers before profits by bringing our railways back into public ownership.”

Commenting on the predicted increase, the Scottish Government pointed to its rail price increases being lower than anywhere else in the UK thanks to a self-imposed cap. “ScotRail’s fares increases are generally lower, on average, than those elsewhere in the UK,” a spokesperson said. “This is a result of our policy to place a cap that is lower than RPI on regulated off-peak fares increases, whereas the UK government applies an increase at the level of RPI to all regulated fares.”

Responding to any price increase, the Department for Transport said taxpayers subside the network by more than £4bn a year. "Any fare increase is unwelcome, but it is not fair to ask people who do not use trains to pay more for those who do," a spokesperson said.

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