Commuters will be confronted on Monday with the largest rail fare increase in more than a decade as millions pay up to £380 a year more to travel to work amid ongoing strikes and falling reliability.
The cost of fares in England and Wales rose by 5.9 per cent over the weekend after ministers approved the biggest hike in train travel costs since 2012 – a move which will cost the average London commuter £281 a year and add around £100 to the annual rail bill for workers outside the capital.
The Government insisted it has sought to minimise the effect on rail travellers, pointing out that the annual increase has both been delayed from January and set at around half the rate of inflation for the previous July – the usual benchmark for the yearly rise in so-called “regulated” fares.
But campaigners have described the hikes as a “bitter pill”, arguing that they not only add to the cost of living burden but also risk deterring people from using the rail network and resorting to more environmentally damaging forms of transport such as the car.
Norman Baker, director of external affairs for Campaign for Better Transport and a former Liberal Democrat transport minister, told i: “The largest fare rise in a decade is going to do nothing to encourage more people to travel by train or help those struggling to meet the rising cost of travel.
“People will either stay at home or they will take to their cars. It is especially frustrating given that while we have seen rail fares increase year on year there have been cuts to fuel duty and air passenger duty. We need to invest in rail fares to help the environment and the economy of our towns and cities.”
The rises come into force against a backdrop of frustrations for rail travellers as issues such as staff shortages and sickness, industrial action and infrastructure failure take their toll on reliability. Figures produced by regulator the Office for Rail and Road (ORR) show that the equivalent of one in 25 train services were cancelled in the 12 months to 4 February – the worst performance in records dating back to 2014. The ORR said there were 10 national strike days during the quarter from October to December and some severe weather also impacted performance.
The post-pandemic rise in numbers of white collar workers working from home or travelling at off-peak times has dented revenues for rail companies. According to one estimate the change in working practices has cost the rail industry some £2bn in reduced revenues.
Transport Focus, an independent watchdog, said its polling shows fewer than half of rail passengers feel their fares represent good value for money.
An analysis of the fare increases, which applies to so-called “regulated” fares such as annual season tickets, shared with i shows commuters travelling to London from Southampton will today be hit with the highest rise of £380, taking the yearly cost of travel to £6,816. Workers travelling to the capital from Canterbury will pay an extra £361, followed by Portsmouth (£348), Oxford and Colchester (£340) and Milton Keynes (£339).
While travellers to and from London face the heaviest increases – an average of £281 annually – those travelling to major regional cities also face swingeing rises. The cost of a rail commute from Swindon to Bristol will rise by £230 a year to £4,126, while the journey from Wakefield to Manchester will cost £3,795 a year – a rise of £211. Workers commuting from York to Leeds will now pay £2,766 a year, an increase of £154.
Where are the biggest fare rises?
Journeys into London – annual increase (new cost of 12-month season ticket)
Southampton Central – £380 (£6,826)
Canterbury (all stations) – £361 (£6,472)
Portsmouth – £348 ( £6,252)
Colchester – £340 (£6,104)
Oxford – £340 (£6,096)
Milton Keynes – £339 (£6,079)
Cambridge – £330 (£5,922)
Ashford, Kent – £322 (£5,782)
Hastings – £322 (£5,782)
Royston, Cambs – £319 (£5,723)
Journeys to major regional cities – annual increase (new cost of 12-month season ticket)
Swindon to Bristol – £230 (£4,126)
Wakefield to Manchester – £211 (£3,795)
Rugby to Birmingham – £195 (£3,503)
Burton on Trent to Birmingham – £191 (£3,423)
Newport to Bristol – £174 (£3,118)
Macclesfield to Manchester – £169 (£3,033)
Westbury to Bristol – £155 (£2,787)
York to Leeds – £154 (£2,766)
Bradford-on-Avon to Bristol – £143 (£2,559)
Trowbridge to Bristol – £143 (£2,559)
The Scottish government has frozen ScotRail fares until the end of this month but has yet to announce what will happen beyond then. In Northern Ireland, fares for Translink, the state-owned bus and train operator, will rise by an average of 7 per cent from Monday, the first increase in four years.
Huw Merriman, rail minister for the UK Government, said he understood people were “feeling the pinch”, adding that ministers had decided on the “biggest-ever intervention” on rail fares by pegging the increase to average earnings growth for July 2022 rather than the retail price index inflation rate of 12.3 per cent.
Labour described the increase as “savage” while other campaigners said rail travellers who often have no choice other than to take the train to work were being forced to “grin and bear it”.
Bruce Williamson, of Railfuture, said: “I think very few people will be enjoying an income boost of 5.9 per cent, so the real impact is that it is taking a larger chunk out of people’s incomes.”
The Campaign for Better Transport further highlighted what it said was a “rip off” in the difference between peak and off-peak fares being charged on some rail routes.
The campaign group said travellers making the journey from Grays in Essex to London were paying 5 per cent extra to travel at peak times while those going from Brighton to London were being charged 130 per cent more for peak travel on a day return ticket.
Mr Baker said commuters were falling foul of a system with little or no correlation across operators and regions between fare levels for travelling off-peak and at peak.
He said: “The peak/off peak fares system is unfair, outdated and counterproductive and passengers are bearing the brunt, and the costs, of a broken system. Passengers shouldn’t have to face a lottery when buying their train ticket.”