finance

Britain’s rail travellers face 2.7% fare rise next year


Rail passenger groups have criticised the news that UK train fares will rise by 2.7 per cent in 2020 after a year of poor performance and strikes that have hit services.

The increase, which was based on the July 2019 retail price index, is just under the permitted of maximum 2.8 per cent. It was announced by the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators and infrastructure owner Network Rail.

The rise was announced just a day after the RMT union confirmed that 27 days of strikes on South Western Railway would go ahead from Monday, in a move that will cause huge disruption on the UK’s second biggest commuter network.

The shutdown over the Christmas period is the longest strike in four years of disputes between RMT and the operator, with past actions forcing South Western to cut up to half of timetabled services.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of the independent watchdog Transport Focus, said: “We speak to thousands of passengers each year and we know that less than half feel they get value for money. After a year of patchy performance passengers just want a consistent day-to-day service they can rely on and a better chance of getting a seat.”

Darren Shirley, chief executive of Campaign for Better Transport, said: “January’s above inflation fare rise will no doubt leave passengers dismayed after years of appalling service. With little relief in sight for many from delays, cancellations and overcrowding it will be an inauspicious start to the new year for the railway.”

The increase applies to regulated fares, which account for about 45 per cent of all fares and include season tickets. The rise will come into effect on January 2.

The use of the RPI formula has been widely criticised as it almost always produces an inflation figure higher than the consumer price inflation measure, which rose by 2 per cent in July and is the metric used by the Bank of England.

In September, the chancellor agreed to reform the measure of inflation by 2030 but for at least the next five years rail fares will continue to be increased in line with the index.

The rise in fares comes as the structure of the UK’s railway system is being questioned. A report by Keith Williams, a former British Airways chief executive, is expected to recommend a complete overhaul of the railways, including scrapping the existing franchise system, but stopping short of renationalisation.

Paul Plummer, chief executive of the RDG, said: “We understand that no one wants to pay more to travel, which is why train companies have for the third year in a row held the average fare increases below inflation while still investing to improve journeys.”

He added that passengers will benefit from 1,000 extra, improved train carriages and over 1,000 extra weekly services in 2020, adding that “the industry will continue to push for changes to fares regulations to enable a better range of affordable, mix and match fares and reduced overcrowding on some of the busiest routes.”



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