The great rail fare hike

Peter Skinner MEP
Peter Skinner MEP

Last Tuesday’s announcement that rail fares will rise 6.2 per cent will not have come as a surprise to commuters who have been bearing the brunt of rail network cuts.

The Government’s decision to change the formula for calculating rail fare increases means that some places in Sussex could join the ranks of ‘£1,000 towns’.

Commuters in places like Hastings, Eastbourne and other parts of the county face paying up to £1000 more for a season ticket to London in 2015 than they did in 2011.

The massive increase is possible because the Tory-led Government changed the formula used to calculate rail fares. Instead of using a formula of RPI (inflation) +1 per cent, like the previous Labour Government, they increased this to the current formula of RPI +3 per cent after the last General Election. Even this allows the network operators a certain ‘flex’ to stretch that 3 per cent - raising some fares as much as 8 per cent as long as that is balanced with lower fare rises on other services.

New franchises such as the FirstGroup’s takeover from Virgin Trains in the west coast area will be permitted to raise fares even higher. For the first two years of their new contracts they will be able to raise fares at 8 per cent plus RPI and then at 6 per cent thereafter.

There is also the prospect of ‘super peak’ fares being introduced – bumping up costs for peak time travellers whilst operators reserve the right to make service cuts and close ticket offices. Consumers are paying more and receiving less.

Commuting is now many families’ largest house-hold bill and with little choice available in the job market commuters are left with no option but to put up with the fare increases. This is not good enough, the Government need to be doing more help to the region’s commuters.

Labour proposes returning to the RPI+1 per cent formula we used whilst in government and an end to the ‘flex’ that so angers rail passengers. I want Labour to stand up for commuters against unfair fares.

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Peter Skinner - MEP for the South-East