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Rail Fares: Anger As Commuters Face More Hikes

(c) Sky News 2013

Rail commuters returning to work after the Christmas and New Year break have been hit by inflation-busting fare rises for the 10th year in a row.

Campaigners claim some season ticket holders have seen the cost of their journey rise by more than 50% since 2003 and are urging an end to the increases.

The TUC said average train fares have risen nearly three times faster than average wages since the beginning of the recession in 2008.

From January 2 the season ticket prices increase by an average of 4.2% and the overall rise for all tickets is 3.9%.

Amid delays and cancellations on the first day back to work after the holiday period, passengers voiced dismay at the annual fare rise. Some complained that services were rarely on time and often overcrowded, branding the latest ticket hike as "unfair".

The Campaign for Better Transport (CBT (KOSDAQ: 049960.KQ - news) ) said its research showed that in the last decade London commuters have seen:

:: Average season ticket costs increase by £1,300;

:: Fares grow 20% faster than wages;

:: Average costs in real terms increasing by £360.

It added that in the last 10 years rail fares had gone up substantially in all parts of England but that there were significant differences between routes over that period:

:: 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.

CBT chief executive Stephen Joseph said: "The impact of successive governments' policies on rail fares is appalling. It's truly shocking that 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."

CBT has launched a petition calling on the Government to name a date to end the above-inflation formula used for determining the annual rise and commit to reducing fares relative to inflation.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady 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."

Campaign group Railfuture added that some fares could be going up by around 11% or 12% this year, "with no perceptible improvement in service".

But train companies insisted rail fares in England still represented value for money.

The Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc) said it recognised nobody liked paying more for their journey, but that railway funding could only come from taxpayers or from passengers "and the Government's policy remains that a bigger share must come from people who use the train".

Transport Minister Norman Baker said the Government had intervened to reduce the scale of the rises.

He said: "Family budgets are being squeezed, so that is why this coalition Government has taken proactive steps to cut the planned fare rises from 3% to 1% above inflation until 2014."

He went on: "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."

But shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle, who joined transport unions in a demonstration against the latest hikes outside London's St Pancras station, said that the rail fare increases were "going straight into the train companies' profits".

The Labour MP added that most future investment would be paid for during the course of the next Parliament.

This year's fare increases came as a new survey by Hay Group revealed commuting by rail now costs workers 8% of their salaries on average.

The management consultancy warned that employees were becoming increasingly concerned about the amount of income they lose to travel, with commuting costs rising faster than both wages and inflation.

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