Travellers 'held to ransom' as rail prices soar

A campaign against rail fare rises which are "holding travellers to ransom" has been unveiled ahead of planned increases to train ticket prices tomorrow.

The Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) will launch its Fair Fares Now petition next week as millions of commuters return to work after the festive break.

The campaign, which is backed by famed TV traveller Michael Palin, was formed in protest at New Year fare rises, which mean some passengers will have to pay more than 5,000 for season tickets, according to the CBT.

Palin said: "Rail fare rises are holding travellers to ransom and increasing the likelihood that people will have to take to our already-overcrowded roads.

"Regular price hikes are no way for the Government and train companies to reward their regular customers.

"Instead of milking them, they should be thanking them for their loyalty with a better, simpler, more competitive fare structure."

From tomorrow, annual season tickets for main line rail travellers will rise by an average of 5.8 per cent, with Tube and bus fares in London rising by an average of 6.8 per cent.

The CBT said some commuters would see their season tickets increase in price by 13 per cent.

In future, ticket costs are likely to increase further ahead of the Retail Price Index.

It said the new cost of season tickets would equate to around 20 per cent of the average UK salary and was the equivalent of Transport Secretary Philip Hammond paying more than 27,000 for a season ticket.

CBT chief executive Stephen Joseph said: "Commuters feel like they are being pick-pocketed by the Government, expected to pay more year on year for the same poor quality service.

"Even with the promised extra investment, many passengers will see no actual improvement to their daily commute.

"Politicians need to start living in the real world and understand that people simply cannot afford to pay a fifth of their income just to do a day's work.

"The Government pledged to create fair fares and we all expect them to keep that promise."

The 5.8 per cent average main line rail increase in regulated fares (which include season tickets) is based on the July 2010 retail prices inflation (RPI) figure of 4.8 per cent plus another one per cent, with the railway companies allowed to use flexibility, or "flex", to average out the increase.

To take account of investment in their line, including high-speed Javelin trains, passengers on trains run by the Southeastern company have an annual regulated fare price-rise formula of RPI plus three per cent. This means commuters in the Kent area will be paying an average of 7.8 per cent more for season tickets from tomorrow, with some season tickets going up by almost 13 per cent.

The RPI plus three per cent formula will be introduced across the whole network from January 2012.

The CBT said the higher fares were pricing people off the train, which risked reducing access to work in London and other major UK cities.

Watchdogs Passenger Focus and London TravelWatch also joined the CBT in condemning the price hikes.

Yesterday Anthony Smith, chief executive Passenger Focus, said: "Many passengers returning to work in the New Year will be baffled about why they are paying much higher figures than the 'averages' published by the train companies.

"For many passengers, this flexibility won't appear fair.

"With the train companies again free to raise fares on individual routes, some passengers will be facing rises way above inflation and in some cases it will be back to the bad old days of double-digit fare increases."

The Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc) said any fare rising by more than 5.8 per cent would have to be balanced by another going up by less and that some fares would be going up by less than one per cent.

Rail fares have been rising ahead of inflation in recent years and pressure groups have become frustrated that commuters have faced increased overcrowding on some services which have not grown in line with increasing passenger numbers.