22nd August 2016Rail fares derailed by inflation

Regulated rail fares in England and Wales and regulated peak-time fares in Scotland will rise by 1.9% next January. Around half of rail fares are regulated, including season tickets on most commuter journeys.

Rail travellers have had a hard time over the last few years. The TUC says that rail fares have risen twice as fast as wages since 2010, rising by 25% in the last six years, while average weekly earnings have grown by just 12%.

However, things could have been worse; the fare rises could have been much higher had the coalition government not cut the cap on regulated fares in 2013 from RPI inflation plus 1%, to the July RPI inflation rate. In 2014, in a further move to reduce fare increases the government removed the train operators’ freedom to increase certain fares within the cap.

For some workers the increase in fares simply piles on the misery of their already difficult commute. Many journeying into London on a daily basis regularly do so on grossly overcrowded trains facing the ever-present worry that they may yet again be late for work. In response to rising levels of concern, the TUC’s Action for Rail campaign is planning a series of protests at stations around the UK, and calling for the resumption of public ownership of the rail network and the introduction of affordable fares.

Problems on all sides
Some train operating companies have experienced difficulties operating a full timetable, from long-running disputes and strikes, to over-running engineering works that cost them thousands of pounds, all adding up to more commuter exasperation and mounting claims for refunds. From their perspective, the increase in fares is desperately needed to cover wages, operating costs and more rolling stock. The Rail Delivery Group reports that for every pound spent on fares, 97p goes on track, trains, staff and running costs.

A flexible approach to fares
The Campaign for Better Transport is calling for a fairer deal for the estimated 8.5m people who work part-time or work part of the week from home, and therefore cannot take advantage of season ticket savings. They are campaigning for the urgent introduction of part-time, flexible tickets to help this ever-increasing band of commuters. While one rail franchise, c2c, has introduced a carnet-style scheme, the Department for Transport has not so far put pressure on other train companies to follow suit.

Rail travellers may be under pressure, but they are also resourceful, finding and sharing ways of keeping their fares down whenever possible. By buying a split ticket, many commuters are saving themselves considerable amounts of cash. So, for example, those travelling from Manchester to London on a train that stops at Milton Keynes could find it cheaper to buy a ticket to Milton Keynes and another one from Milton Keynes to London. There’s even a website that helps commuters work out how to split their journey cost-effectively.

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