Rail passengers endured a double whammy of inflation-busting fare rises and disrupted services today.
As Transport Minister Norman Baker was describing the fare structure as “not ideal”, commuters out in the dark and cold of an early January morning faced delays and cancellations.
From today, regulated fares, which include season tickets, have risen by an average of 4.2%, with the average increase for all fares being 3.9%.
Campaigners have pointed out it is the 10th successive above-inflation annual rise, with some fares having increased by more than 50% in the last 10 years.
Waiting for trains at King’s Cross station in London today, passengers expressed their anger at the rise.
Outside the station, shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle joined a protest against the high fares mounted by transport union TSSA.
On the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Mr Baker said the Government wanted to end above-inflation fares as soon as possible.
But Ms Eagle said the Government had “caved in” to train companies by allowing some regulated fares to rise by more than 4.2% as long as the overall 4.2% average was maintained.
“People are paying more for a worse service,” said Ms Eagle.
Some commuters appeared to agree with her. Leeds-bound hairdresser Gavin Lambert, 45, described his service as “rarely on time and often overcrowded”, while his friend Kevin Gowland, 46, a musician, said people were taking to the roads as the rail service was “so bad”.
The new year brought old problems during the rush-hour. Greater Anglia had to cancel some services, and there was disruption to Southern and Southeastern train company services.
Buses had to replace trains for a time between Bourne End and Maidenhead in Berkshire and between Sudbury and Marks Tey in East Anglia.
Mr Baker said 40% of fares were regulated in a long-standing policy that had existed under successive governments.
He went on: “The balance of regulation and which fares are regulated is part of the fares and ticketing review we are now engaged upon.
“It’s not ideal. There are over 100,000 rail tickets and different prices each year to deal with. It’s a hugely complicated issue.
“So it’s important we try to get the best value for the passenger, the best value for the taxpayer and the simplest, (most) transparent system we can, given the need to ensure rail companies can price appropriately to attract people on to off-peak trains which might otherwise be running empty.”
The Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc) said it recognised nobody liked paying more for their journey.
But it added that railway funding could only come from taxpayers or from passengers “and the Government’s policy remains that a bigger share must come from people who use the train”.
Ms Eagle said: “Train companies are the ones profiting from this rise. The Government has caved in to pressure from the train companies to allow some fares to rise above the so-called 4.2% cap.”
Reflecting the fact that Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne are Old Etonians, TSSA’s protest at King’s Cross featured a top hat-wearing “ToffsRUs” band playing such commuter-soothing ditties as Jolly Boating Weather.
The TUC has said fares have risen far faster than wages since the recession in 2008.
Among above-average rises today are a 6.16% hike for a Leeds to Wakefield season ticket, while a Ludlow to Hereford season ticket is increasing 5.28%.
Some Kent commuters have also had to fork out for above-average rises, with season tickets to London from Ramsgate, Folkestone, Canterbury, Deal and Dover all going up by around 4.8%.
Some travellers have escaped the worst of the increases. Those commuting to London from Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, for example, will only have to pay 3.18% more for their season tickets.
Campaign group Railfuture said fares have risen “with no perceptible improvement in service”.
Campaign for Better Transport chief executive Stephen Joseph said: “The impact of successive Government’s policies on rail fares is appalling.
“It’s truly shocking that we have deliberately made getting the train to work an extravagance that many struggle to afford. The time has come not just to stop the rises but to reduce fares.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “I understand the frustration felt by many commuters going back to work today.
“At a time when real wages are falling and household budgets are being squeezed, rail travellers are being forced to endure yet another year of inflation-busting fare increases.
From today, fares have also gone up by an average of 4.2% on the Underground and on London buses.
London Mayor Boris Johnson said: “Further investment on the transport network will help us to provide faster, more frequent and reliable journeys for Londoners and is crucial to the economic development and growth that is so vital to our great city.”