THE Chancellor took some of the sting out of New Year train fare rises by reducing the planned increase by two per cent – but said fares would still continue to rise above inflation.
Before yesterday’s announcement, regulated fares, which include season tickets, had been due to rise by an average of eight per cent in January 2012 – three per cent above inflation.
But Mr Osborne said that rise – announced by the coalition earlier this year – was too much and that the increase would be limited to inflation-plus-one per cent.
This means the average rise in January will now be six per cent.
Mr Osborne said the reduction, to be funded by the Government, would “help the millions of people who use the trains”.
He said fares were already expensive and had been set to go up well above the inflation rate to pay for much-needed investment.
But unions pointed out the relief would only last a single year, and suggested the measure was simply being introduced to help London Mayor Boris Johnson in his re-election campaign next year.
Manuel Cortes, leader of the TSSA rail union, said: “We always welcome the sinner that repents, but in George Osborne’s case he plans to go right back to sinning against rail passengers for the next three years from 2013, with big inflation-plus increases.”
Rail passenger groups also offered a lukewarm welcome to the news.
Stephen Joseph, of the Campaign for Better Transport, said: “We’re delighted that the Government has decided to ease the load on hard-pressed passengers, but rail fares are still a heavy burden, and commuters will face paying hundreds of pounds more for their season tickets in January at a time when they can ill afford it.
“The decision to limit fare hikes mustn’t just be a temporary measure to soften the Chancellor’s otherwise bad-news statement, but should also apply in 2013 and 2014 as the start of a policy to cut fares and make public transport truly affordable.”
Once again, passengers in West Yorkshire may find their fares rising higher than in other parts of the country due to the deal agreed several years ago whereby train companies were allowed to raise prices further in return for purchasing extra carriages.
West Yorkshire transport body Metro said it would be discussing details of the announcement with the Treasury, and that confirmation of fare rises in the county would be made in due course.