Train ticket price hike: public fury could bring gov't U-turn
'It's daylight robbery': unions and commuters unite against another above-inflation price rise
TRAIN companies and the government are facing a wave of public anger after it emerged that railway commuters face an above-inflation fare increase. The backlash means it is possible the government will repeat last year's U-turn and ultimately reduce the price hike.
English fares are due to rise by inflation plus three per cent from 1 January while those in Scotland will increase by inflation plus one per cent. It means that fares for some people will rise by up to 6.2 per cent.
Transport minister Theresa Villiers said above-inflation fare increases are required because of the "pressing need" to tackle the budget deficit. "We are pressing ahead with a massive programme of rail improvements to tackle crowding and improve services and rail fares are making an important contribution to delivering this at a time when taxpayer funds are limited," she told The Daily Telegraph.
"In the longer term we are determined to get rid of these above-inflation fare rises all together."
The reaction to the proposed fare increases has been fast and furious.
The Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) said people travelling from the home counties to London will pay more than £100 a week just to get to work, The Independent reports.
"It is complete nonsense to say fares have to rise above inflation every year to pay for new rail projects," said TSSA boss Manuel Cortes. "Air travellers don't pay higher taxes to get new runways built, and motorists certainly don't pay more for new roads.
"This is all about squeezing a captive audience, the commuter, until the pips squeak. It is little more than daylight robbery."
Other unions have weighed in on the side of commuters. Simon Weller of the train drivers' union Aslef said: "Enough is enough. Rail fares are constantly going up. We should stop subsidising private shareholders." Action for Rail, a TUC-backed campaign, was planning protests at major railway stations today.
Commuters arriving in London at King's Cross this morning expressed their disgust to The Times. Recruitment consultant Julie Osborne, from Grantham, said: "I am not quite sure what we are allegedly getting for this extra 11 per cent - trains that are running late, disgruntled staff and a crappy network. I think it is ridiculous. I am a taxpayer as well. I am paying double."
The opposition also put the boot in. Labour's shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle said: "This is a government that puts the wrong people first. David Cameron's decision to side with the powerful private train operators against commuters and passengers shows he is desperately out of touch with the cost-of-living crisis facing many hard-working families."
Given the backlash, it is unsurprising the government has left itself room for manoeuvre. The Guardian observes that protests over a similar fare rise planned for January 2012 forced the government to revise the increase to one per cent above inflation.
Transport secretary Justine Greening said there could be a repeat if "spare money" could be found. "I am keen to see what we can do to keep fares down to something affordable," she added.