Hefty fare hikes are pricing people off the country’s railways, a senior Labour MP has warned after a planned protest in Yorkshire was cancelled when his train broke down.
Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald had been set to speak with campaigners in Leeds yesterday as commuters faced the first day of increased rail fares averaging 3.4 per cent. Having instead spent two hours in a darkened train when it broke down outside Grantham, he has warned that under-investment combined with “staggering” price rises are turning commuters away from the country’s rail services.
“People are at the end of their tether,” he told The Yorkshire Post. “We now have the most expensive rail fares in Europe. We simply can’t go on with people paying such eye-watering sums to go about their daily business.
“The North of England needs to get the investment it needs and deserves. It’s imperative we get better connectivity.”
Annual rail fares increases averaging 3.4 per cent, the largest rise in five years, came into force yesterday as protests were held at stations across the country.
They will add £40 to the cost of an annual season ticket from Leeds to Harrogate or Ilkley, while an annual ticket on the fastest services between Leeds and York will now cost £2,312. Strikes are planned on the railways next week, although last-ditch talks are to be held today.
Mr McDonald, calling for public ownership and urgent reform, said: “Some of our commuter routes in the North of England are incredibly congested. People are paying good money to stand on over-subscribed services. It’s exactly the wrong thing to be doing when we are trying to drive the North forward as an economic entity in its own right. We must have all our major cities connected.”
The Government uses the previous July’s Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure of inflation to determine increases. A DfT spokesperson said: “We are investing in the biggest modernisation of our railways since the Victorian times to improve services for passengers – providing faster and better, more comfortable trains with extra seats. This is the fifth year in a row where this Government has capped the cost of regulated fares – like most season tickets – in line with inflation, saving passengers money. We keep fare prices under constant review and the price rises for this year are capped in line with inflation, with more than 97p out of every £1 paid going back into the railway.”
Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group which represents train operators, said: “On average, fares will rise by less than inflation this year. For every pound paid in fares, 97p goes directly back to operating and improving services and, with more people travelling, that means more money for investment by the private and public partnership railway to build the better network Britain needs.”
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling came under fire for being in Qatar as fare rises came into effect yesterday.
Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said passengers will “draw their own conclusions” from Mr Grayling’s decision to take a “trip to the Qatari sunshine”.
The Department for Transport said the visit is to promote the UK, support jobs and strengthen relationships: “The Secretary of State has repeatedly answered questions on this issue, ever since fare increases were first announced in August,” a statement said.