Campaigners reacted with anger to the news that rail fares in England would rise by an average 3.5 per cent in January – and some fares could rise by more than 5 per cent.
The increase will add about £300 to the cost of many commuters’ season tickets.
Under government policy to ensure passengers shoulder more of the cost of rail than taxpayers, regulated fares – off-peak intercity tickets and season tickets – are to rise by 1 per cent above inflation. The measure is fixed by July’s 2.5 per cent RPI figure, which was announced on Tuesday morning.
The January rise in regulated fares will take the total increase since 2010 close to 25 per cent, compared with a rise in average wages of just 6.9 per cent.
Charities warned that rising fares were becoming an increasing burden on stretched household budgets. The Citizens Advice Bureau said it was dealing with more people who were struggling with transport costs amid a higher cost of living.
It highlighted that people were frustrated about rising fares when the level of service remained the same.
The charity said more people than ever were seeking advice for transport issues with 27,500 people seeking help online.
Martin Abrams, of the Campaign for Better Transport, said: “With people’s wages stagnating, and in some cases falling, the expense of taking the train to work has become a huge part of living costs.”
“If the government doesn’t put an end to above-inflation fare increases quickly, ordinary commuters will be priced off the train and could be forced into agonising decisions such as moving house or quitting their jobs.”
Commuters and trade union members turned out for protests during the morning peak travel period at 40 stations around the country, including King’s Cross, Leeds and Edinburgh stations. Action for Rail, which is organised by trade unions, is calling for the railways to be taken into public ownership.
Claire Perry, rail minister, defended the increase and said the government was committed to “fair fares”.
“What we have got to do is make sure rail passengers, who could be forgiven for thinking ‘What on earth am I getting for these rises I’ve seen over the last decade?’, start to realise that they are paying fair fares for comfortable commuting.”
Labour has condemned the rise. Mary Creagh, shadow transport secretary, said: “David Cameron has failed to stand up for working people struggling with the cost-of-living crisis. He’s allowed train companies to sting passengers with inflation-busting fare rises of over 20 per cent since 2010, costing them hundreds of pounds.”
London commuters will have paid an extra £584.08 on an annual zone 1-6 travel card since Boris Johnson, the city’s mayor, took office in 2008, Labour said.
The TSSA transport union said Conservative ministers had to stop the annual “persecution of millions of rail passengers with inflation-busting increases”.
Train companies also have a “flex” rule that allows them to increase some regulated fares by 2 per cent above the average as long the overall average remains at the RPI plus 1 per cent level. This means some fares could go up by 5.5 per cent in the new year.
The exact fares for each route will be published by train companies later this year, and the rises will come into effect on January 2 next year.
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