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THE government’s plans for a 1.6 per cent hike in rail fares sparked fury among passenger groups and rail unions today.
The rise, which will pile yet more profits into the coffers of privateer operators, will come into force from January next year.
It brought intensified demands for the rail industry to be taken back into public ownership — and warnings that more passengers will desert the railways if fares continue to climb.
Passengers will, critics say, face a double rip-off, first as over-charged rail users and second as taxpayers who are already pouring hundreds more millions of pounds into subsidies to rail operators than ever before.
Annual fares hikes are linked to the July rate of inflation, which was announced today at 1.6 per cent.
Labour said the cost of rail season tickets had risen by 42 per cent since 2010 — an annual average increase of more than £3,350.
Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) assistant general secretary Mick Lynch said: “The fact that this government appears to be pushing ahead with yet another extortionate fare rise in January shows just how out of touch they are.
“What we urgently need to see is bold and innovative leadership to give passengers what they want — a publicly owned railway with affordable and flexible ticketing that’s good value and suits their needs as part of the Covid-19 recovery.”
TSSA rail union general secretary Manuel Cortes said: “There should be no planned increase in rail fares. Doing so in the middle of a health emergency and emerging economic crisis will help no-one.
“This is the moment for government to come clean and tell us that not only will there be no increase in fares but that they are taking our railways back into public ownership.”
Mick Whelan, leader of the train drivers’ union Aslef, said the increase was “entirely inappropriate.”
“Now is not the time to put prices up. That’s why I am calling on the government to do the right thing and announce that there will be no price rise next year.”
Shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said: “Decisions taken by government ministers are making rail travel unaffordable and discouraging people (from getting) back on to the network, which will be vital for getting the rail sector on a stable footing.
“The government must stop paying the profit of the private rail companies and bring the network in-house.”
Train operators are being given an extra £500 million in taxpayers’ cash this year to compensate them for profits lost due to the coronavirus pandemic as passenger numbers plummeted.
The compensation comes on top of the £500 million a year in subsidies already being handed to the privateers by taxpayers.
Operators are now clamouring for more “compensation.”
We Own It campaigns officer Ellen Lees, said: “Right now, private rail companies are being handed bucket-loads of taxpayers’ cash to prop up the failing model of rail privatisation. So it beggars belief that rail fares are set to shoot up once again this year.
“The only solution to our broken railways is to bring them into public ownership — where they belong.”
Campaign for Better Transport chief executive Darren Shirley said: “As people return to work and the economic impact of Covid-19 becomes more apparent, the rise in rail fares will do little to encourage people to return to using the railways.”
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