The annual increase in rail fares has come into effect today – the first weekday of the New Year – with an average rise of 2.3 per cent.
Regulated fares such as season tickets will rise by 1.9 per cent (pegged to July 2016’s RPI) but some unregulated off-peak fares set by train companies will rise by as much as seven per cent on certain routes.
Rail Delivery Group chief executive Paul Plummer defended the increase saying: ‘Nobody wants to pay more to travel to work and at the moment in some places people aren’t getting the service they are paying for. However, increases to season tickets are set by government. Money from fares is helping to sustain investment in the longer, newer trains and more punctual journeys that passengers want.’
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said the government has ‘always fairly balanced the cost of modernising the railways between the taxpayer and the passenger.’
In response, shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said that although passengers are always told that higher fares are necessary to fund investment, ‘the truth is that our heavily fragmented railways mean that it takes years longer and costs much more than it should to deliver basic improvements.’
Which?, the consumer body that last year submitted a supercomplaint to the ORR over rail delay compensation, said the rise will be a ‘bitter pill to swallow for passengers who continue to experience cancellations, delays, overcrowding and poor service from their train companies.’
Vickie Sheriff, Which? director of campaigns and communications said: ‘We are working with the rail minister and industry to improve information on rail fares and ticketing that will make it easier for people to choose the best value fare for their journey.’
Bruce Williamson from independent campaign group Railfuture said: ‘With the chaos on Southern, lacklustre performance in Scotland, and stalled electrification on the Great Western main line, passengers are going to wonder what they are getting for their increased ticket price.’
Describing the UK’s rail fares as ‘already the most eye-watering in Europe’, Williamson pointed out that with fuel duty frozen for motorists for the fifth year in a row, ‘it can’t be denied that people are being priced off the railways. Passenger growth is slowing for the first time in twenty years.’
Passengers in Scotland are being ‘rewarded’ for their continued custom and patience over delays and disruption with a £3 million fare initiative which will give one week’s free travel to monthly and annual season ticket holders – worth more in cash terms than a fares freeze.
Describing 2016 as a ‘challenging year for the rail industry’ minister for transport & the islands, Humza Yousaf said: ‘The Scottish government knew this was simply not good enough, so took steps to ensure Scotrail addressed this by introducing a 249-point Performance Improvement Plan which we are now monitoring closely. We are confident ScotRail can and will deliver the kind of services passengers deserve.’