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Rail Fares to Increase

Train Ticket & PoundsRail users are expected to suffer a 6.2% increase in rail fares come January 1, 2013. This comes as prices are set to increase three percentage points above inflation, which was at 3.2% for July. This announcement has sparked anger among unions and passenger groups, who are pushing for a day of industrial action to protest the move.

Passenger groups say fares are rising faster than salaries and risk making the rails unaffordable for ordinary people. Train operators are permitted to increase some fares by extra 5%, which means some commuters could be charged 11.2% more for fares next year.

On Tuesday, protests organised by the Action for Rail campaign were being held at Waterloo station and dozens of others throughout the country. The campaign is backed by the Trades Union Congress (TUC). Waterloo demonstrators handed out leaflets to passengers and held up a big banner that urged rail fares to be reduced rather than staff.

Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) executive director Stephen Joseph says the higher-than-expected inflation figure means rail fares will increase over 6% if the government goes ahead with its policy. More pressure will be put on the government to make a u-turn on its policy and reduce fares. Delaying the fuel duty hike on cars shows that the government knows they can’t continue hitting commuters with hikes. However, he adds that many in the south-east of England spend 15% of their salaries on travel to London for work. He warns that the price of annual season fares from many towns to the capital will rise by over £1,000 between last year and 2015.

Aside from this, season ticket prices for travel between Liverpool and Manchester will rise more than £160 a year, while travel between Derby and Leicester will increase as much as £120 per year. The Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) says that several commuter towns will see fares to the capital cost upwards of £5,000 per year.

Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union general secretary Bob Crow says this rail price hike is the government kicking commuters. The increase represents a huge blow to the travelling public, as it comes at a time when austerity programmes are already taking a toll on household budgets. He warns that money won’t be reinvested in services, rather it will be put back into operators’ pockets in the form of a windfall.

However, rail companies insist they won’t benefit from the regulated fare hike, as payments they make or take under their franchise terms are adjusted. Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) chief executive Michael Roberts says the government decides the average percentage hike to commuter fares and other regulated ticket prices, and train operators are required to introduce those. He added that any flexibility they have under the rules is to maximise the government’s revenue.

Meanwhile, the government has suggested it could back down from the planned rises, which will see some fares rise to £1,000 more in 2015 compared to last year. Transport Secretary Justine Greening said Monday that she would ask for government funding to keep rail ticket prices down.

Pressure has also been mounting on the coalition to limit price hikes. Shadow Transport Secretary Maria Eagle says the decision by Prime Minister David Cameron to side with private train operators against train passengers and commuters demonstrates he’s out of touch with the living costs facing hard-working families. Labour, she added, would enforce a strict 1% above inflation cap for all routes.

Additionally, Liberal Democrat transport committee chairman Lord Bradshaw and Julian Huppert MP have warned Greening that their party won’t support fare rises on Europe’s most expensive rails. Huppert says people are having a hard time making ends meet due to rising utility bills and wage freezes. Chancellor George Osbourne needs to recognise that people can’t be expected to pay such large rises in fares as well.

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