Rail Fares Hit by Biggest Annual Increase in Five Years

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(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Tue, 15 Aug, 2017) London, Uk – –

Rail fares for commuters in England and Wales will increase by 3.6% from next year, adding pressure to incomes already squeezed by higher prices.

The rise, the biggest annual increase in five years, is set by the government and linked to July’s retail price index (RPI) measure of inflation announced by the Office for National Statistics on Tuesday. The higher fares will take effect from January.

Economists had expected RPI to increase to 3.5% in July, while rail fares rose by 2.3% at the start of 2017 based on last year’s figures.

The change applies to about 40% of rail fares, including season tickets on many commuter journeys, some off-peak return tickets on long-distance journeys and anytime tickets around major cities. So-called regulated fares are set by the government but normally provide the benchmark for rises across the network.

Unions and campaigners have been holding protests against the rises at railway stations around the country.

The RMT general secretary, Mick Cash, said government policies of holding down wages while allowing fares to rise was a “toxic combination”. He said: “The private operators and government say the rises are necessary to fund investment but the reality is that they are pocketing the profits while passengers are paying more for less with rail engineering work being delayed or cancelled, skilled railway jobs being lost and staff cut on trains, stations and at ticket offices.”

The Aslef general secretary, Mick Whelan, called for the system to be reformed, saying: “The government must intervene to make fares simpler, fairer and cheaper in Brexit Britain. Passengers and taxpayers will rightly be asking what they are paying for.”

He said fares should at the least be linked to the consumer price index (CPI), which rose by 2.6% in July, rather than RPI.

Stephen Joseph, the chief executive of Campaign for Better Transport, called for a fares freeze: “[The government’s] frozen fuel duty for the last seven years and we think rail fares should be given the same treatment.”

Joseph also said it was unacceptable that the government continued to use the higher RPI rate to calculate rail fare rises. “Passengers would be forgiven for thinking they are being taken for a ride when RPI has been dropped as an official measure for most other things.”

The rail industry defended the steep increase. Paul Plummer, the chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, representing train companies and Network Rail, said: “Money from fares pays to run and improve the railway, making journeys better, boosting the economy, creating skilled jobs and supporting communities across Britain. It’s also the case that many major rail industry costs rise directly in line with RPI.”

Inflation had been expected to rise again after an unexpected fall in June, helped by falling fuel prices, which offset the rising costs of food, clothing and household goods.

Although CPI did not resume its upward trajectory last month, it is still running above the government’s 2% inflation target and outstripping the pace of wage rises. That has led to a rising cost of living, heaping pressure on households. Consumers are using credit cards to fund spending and the Bank of England has expressed alarm about the increase in personal debt.

Chris Williamson, the chief business economist at data company IHS Markit, said there were still risks “skewed towards inflation rising in coming months”, while wage growth is expected to remain below 2%.

ames Tucker, the head of CPI inflation at the Office for National Statistics, said RPI was not seen as a good measure by the statistics authority. However, the Treasury said the use of RPI was “consistent with the general approach adopted across the rail industry”, while the measure is used to account for inflation in the cost of running train services.

“Although inflation is likely to start falling next year, we understand some families are concerned today about the cost of living,” a Treasury spokesperson added.

Labour said the latest rise meant the average commuter will be paying £2,888 for their season ticket in January, £694 more than they paid in 2010. Some are paying over £2,500 more to travel to work than in 2010, it added.

A Virgin Trains season ticket between Birmingham and London Euston will now cost £10,567, while season tickets on some routes have risen by more than 40% since 2010. Andy McDonald, the shadow transport secretary, said the rises were “truly staggering”, adding: “The truth is that our fragmented, privatised railway drives up costs and leaves passengers paying more for less. The railways need serious reform.”

In Scotland, the blow for some rail travellers will be eased slightly as the Scottish government plans to limit regulated off-peak fares to an increase of 1% below RPI, or 2.6%, although season tickets will rise at the RPI rate.

By Richard Partington and Gwyn Topham