Rail fare hikes 'will force passengers into cars'

Big rail fare rises that take effect next week will simply drive train passengers on to the roads, a pressure group said today.

Season ticket holders face rises of 5.8% from Sunday but, as this is an average figure, some long-suffering commuters will be forking out for even higher hikes.

There will be even more bad news for train travellers from January 2012 as the average rise for regulated fares, which include season tickets, will go up from the present 1% above RPI inflation to 3% above RPI.

"We think this is hugely unfair. I don't think motorists or airline passengers will be suffering price hikes like this," said Mike Crowhurst of the pressure group Railfuture.

He went on: "Rail fares in Britain are already amongst the highest in Europe, and we think this will just drive even more people on to the roads, which will result in even more congestion and pollution. So this will have an impact on car drivers too.

"The Government claims to have a green agenda, so it must not discourage people from using the greenest form of transport. During the election, they said they would end the war on the motorist. Now it looks like they're declaring war on the rail passenger. You can't cure overcrowding by pricing off demand."

Railfuture is calling for changes to the way transport is taxed. Mr Crowhurst said: "We need a level playing field. For instance, why is air travel exempt from fuel duty when rail isn't?

"The rail industry pays a huge amount back in tax to the Government, at least 1.4 billion, which only contributes to the high cost of rail fares. Also, the Government uses the RPI inflation figure instead of the lower CPI, which further increases fares."

Mr Crowhurst said the Government-commissioned McNulty Report into the value for money of the rail industry would identify efficiency savings in the region of 1 billion.

He went on: "It's important that these savings are passed on to the passenger, not the Treasury. We know that the Government is trying to reduce the taxpayer's contribution to the running of the railways, which is understandable, but we think they're going too far.

"There are many reasons why the wider community benefits from a decent rail network, and it's in everyone's interest that passengers are not priced off the railway."

The Government and the rail industry have insisted that higher fares are vital to allow for continued investment in an already-overcrowded rail system.

However, the rises come as a bitter blow to weather-weary commuters who have had to endure restricted services during the recent bad weather and who are balancing budgets at a time of wage freezes and high inflation.

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