Rail price hike woe for Thurrock commuters

THURROCK rail commuters went back to work this morning (Jan 2nd) facing an average 4.2% price rise in their season tickets.

This is the tenth year in a row that prices have increased.

For rail commuters, rail tickets are the second highest expenditure in their budget after mortgages.

A season ticket for rail commuters in Thurrock (East Tilbury, Tilbury, Grays, Stanford-le-Hope, Chafford Hundred, Purfleet, Ockendon) will see their season tickets creeping to nearly £2,500 a year.

Overall, ticket prices have gone up by 3.9% in England, Wales and Scotland, but rises vary between train operators reports the BBC.

The TUC has claimed average train fares have risen nearly three times faster than average incomes since 2008.

Transport minister Norman Baker said the government had intervened to ensure fare rises were capped at about 4%.

“Regulated” rail fare increases – which include season tickets for most commuter journeys and off-Peak fares on most intercity routes – are calculated by using the Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure of inflation plus an additional percentage.

Initially the rail fare increase was set at RPI plus 3% – a total of 6.2% – but this was reduced to RPI plus 1% by the government in October to a total of about 4.2%.

Train companies are allowed to vary regulated fares by up to 5% above, or by any amount below, the average change in regulated fares, so that they can respond to changes in demand in particular areas.

Fares that go up by more than the average must be balanced by others that rise by less than the average, or that fall.

Labour has said it will impose a “strict” cap on future rail fare rises, and have accused the government of misleading commuters over promises to limit them.

Since 2003, London commuters have seen:

Average season ticket costs increase by £1,300
Fares increasing 20% faster than wages
Average costs in real terms increasing by £360
Outside of London, rail users have faced:

Annual fares from Ashford International in Kent to London have risen by more than £2,000
Fares from Sevenoaks in Kent to London have increased by nearly 90%, from £1,660 to £3,112
Commuters travelling between Worcester and Birmingham Moor Street will pay £1,240 for a season ticket compared with £816 in 2003, an increase of 52%

An off-peak day return between Bristol and St Austell in Cornwall has risen in price from £53.10 to £75.60 – a rise of 40%

One of the biggest rises coming in on Wednesday is the cost of an annual ticket from Banbury to London which goes up by £436, an increase of 9.2%.

An unregulated return between Birmingham and London goes up by 10% although it only adds £2.50 to the fare.

But some tickets will rise by as little as 2.3% while one ticket, from Shenfield, Essex, to London will be £16 cheaper, at £2,704, a 0.6% drop.

The Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) and independent campaign group Railfuture have both calculated that some rail fares have increased by 50% or more in the past 10 years.

CBT chief executive Stephen Joseph branded the rail fare increase “truly shocking”.

He said: “The impact of successive government’s policies on rail fares is appalling.

“We have deliberately made getting the train to work an extravagance that many struggle to afford. The time has come not just to stop the rises but to reduce fares.”

The group have launched a petition calling on government to end the above-inflation formula used for determining the annual rise and commit to reducing fares relative to inflation.

The TUC’s Action for Rail campaign said rail passengers will be paying more for a lesser service, as rail operators begin to implement job cuts as part of plans to save £3.5bn across the rail industry by 2019 begin.

Frances O’Grady, who is general secretary of the TUC and chairs Action for Rail, said: “At a time when real wages are falling and household budgets are being squeezed, rail travellers are being forced to endure yet another year of inflation-busting fare increases.

“As well as having to shell out record amounts of money for their tickets, passengers also face the prospect of travelling on trains with fewer staff and having less access to ticket offices. They are being asked to pay much more for less.”

The chief executive of the Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc), Michael Roberts, said it is the government decides how much the annual average season ticket rise will be.

“Successive governments have required train companies to increase the average price of season tickets every January since 2004 by more than inflation.

“Ministers want passengers to pay a larger share of railway running costs to reduce the contribution from taxpayers while sustaining investment in better stations, new trains and faster services,” he insisted.

Mr Baker said Whitehall had already acted to limit the impact fare increases would have on family budgets.

“We are engaged in the biggest rail investment programme since the 19th century and it is only right that the passenger, as well as the taxpayer, contributes towards that.

“In the longer term we are determined to reduce the cost of running the railways so that we can end the era of above-inflation fare rises,” he added.

Labour shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle said rail fare hikes had come as a “nasty new year shock” for many commuters.

She said: “The government should come clean with commuters that this is a direct result of their decision to cave in to pressure from the private train companies to let them hike ticket prices beyond the so-called cap.

“The misery for passengers is set to continue in 2013 as the government’s plans to let train companies close ticket offices and introduce a new super peak ticket become a reality.

“Labour would strictly enforce the fare cap on every route and restore the ban on train companies imposing higher increases,” she added.

Sustainable transport charity Sustrans have warned that train travel is becoming “increasingly unaffordable” for families.

Chief executive Malcolm Shepherd said: “Many are facing a stark choice, fork out for expensive train travel, own a car and cut back on essentials, or stay put and miss out on jobs and opportunities.

“With oil prices only going up in the long run, we need a major overhaul to our transport system so that we can all afford to get about, now and in the future,” he added.

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