TRAIN fares will go up by an average of 2.3% next month, igniting what a Yorkshire MP has called a winter of discontent. It is the largest rise in three years and will take effect from January 2.
Public transport campaigners warned that some people are being “priced off the railways”, but rail minister Paul Maynard claimed the burden of paying for investment in the network is “fairly balanced” between taxpayers and passengers.
Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman said: “This is going to be a winter of discontent. It’s heaping misery upon misery.
“The very people who are least going to be able to afford price increases and hikes in travel costs are going to be the ones who are hardest hit.”
He added: “Transport is miserable in most parts of the country, and now we’ve got to pay more for it. As this goes on, there will be more and more backlash. It’s a miserable time - and we’ve got to fight back.”
John Hoare, of the South Yorkshire public transport users groups, said: “I’m sure most people would quite like a 2.3 per cent hike in income alongside it.”
He added: “If you have to stand on a train, or travel on one of bone-shakers, you’re not going to be happy at paying more.”
The average increase in fares is the highest since January 2014, when they rose by 2.8%. Prices increased by just 1.1% in January of this year.
Lianna Etkind, of the Campaign for Better Transport, condemned the increase, saying: “People are now finding themselves priced off the railways.
“The train operating companies and the Government need to work closely together to provide fairer, simpler and cheaper fares making sure people are always sold the cheapest ticket available.”
She added that between 1995 and 2016 passengers have seen average fares increase by 23.5%.
Anthony Smith, chief executive of the independent watchdog Transport Focus, said rail travellers will be “disappointed” by the latest increase.
He went on: “Passengers will now want to see the industry’s investment deliver a more reliable day-to-day railway. The Government should consider setting rail fare rises around the Consumer Prices Index instead to bring rail fares into line with other recognised measures of inflation.”
Rail, Maritime and Transport union general secretary Mick Cash described the announcement as “another kick in the teeth for British passengers”.
The increase means they will continue to pay “some of the highest fares in Europe to travel on rammed out and unreliable trains”, he added.
Mr Maynard defended the fares rise, saying wages are growing faster than ticket prices and the Government is investing over £40 billion into the railways.
He added: “We are delivering the biggest rail modernisation programme for over a century, providing more seats and services, wi-fi and air conditioning.
“We have always fairly balanced the cost of this investment between the taxpayer and the passenger.”
Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group which represents train operators and Network Rail, said: “We understand how passengers feel when fares go up, and we know that in some places they haven’t always got the service they pay for.
“Around 97p in every pound passengers pay goes back into running and improving services.”
He went on: “This money helps government to support the biggest investment in our railway since Victorian times.”
Southern rail season ticket holders will be able to claim a refund for the equivalent of a month’s travel as there has been major disruption to services in recent months.
The chaos has partly been caused by strikes over changes to the role of conductors and high levels of staff sickness.
Passengers with an annual ticket will be able to claim the “one off” payout against their 2016 ticket, which can be paid directly into their bank account.
Customers claiming against quarterly, monthly or weekly tickets must have bought travel for at least 12 weeks between April 24 and December 31 to be eligible.
The Government said GTR, the parent company of Southern, has the details of most season ticket holders and it will be inviting them to log on to a website to claim compensation.
The company will also be able to consider proof of purchase from people claiming a payout who have not previously registered.
Mr Maynard said: “Getting Southern rail services back on track is a priority for the Government and I know that what passengers want most is a reliable service.
“But when things do go wrong it is right that we compensate people who have not had the service that they deserve. This is a gesture in recognition of the problems people have faced.”
Charles Horton, chief executive of GTR, said: “Our passengers have had to endure many months of disruption and misery due to industrial action and poor performance and for that I am truly sorry.
“While they have clearly been able to claim under our Delay Repay scheme, we welcome this additional compensation package.
Passengers on GTR’s services will be the first in the country to be able to claim compensation under the separate Delay Repay 15 scheme.
From December 11 they will be eligible for a payout for train delays over 15 minutes, rather than the current 30 minutes.
Under Delay Repay 15 passengers will be entitled to compensation worth 25% of the cost of a single fare for delays of between 15 and 29 minutes.
Under existing Delay Repay rules, more serious disruption can lead to passengers claiming up to 100% of the cost of a ticket.
To coincide with the fares announcement the Government revealed that more than 84,000 of Southern rail’s long-suffering passengers in the south of England are to be eligible for a “one-off” compensation payment.
The payout will be equivalent to a month’s travel in recognition of the huge amount of delays, cancellations and disruption in recent months.
Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) General Secretary Manuel Cortes said: “Britain’s rail passengers should be given a fares freeze not yet more fare rises.
“The cost of rail travel should not be going up whilst wages remain static and the quality of our rail service is declining not getting better.
“It’s an outrage that our trains have become dangerously overcrowded, increasingly delayed and increasingly expensive. From ScotRail to Southern passengers are legally required to reward their train operating company in the form of an automatic annual fare rise.
“The law that fares rise whatever the shoddy service is obviously an ass!”