/ Travel & Leisure

Train fares rise again – can you afford our ‘rip-off’ rail?

Train ticket in pocket

As rail commuters head back to work after the Christmas break, there was one thing they had to look forward to – price rises. Today train fares rose by an average of 6%. Are you struggling to afford your commute?

Rail travel in the UK is already the most expensive in Europe, with the Campaign For Better Transport (CBT) claiming that some season tickets are 3.5 times more than the most expensive European tickets.

And as we see the New Year in, rail prices have sneaked up again. It’s not as bad as it could have been – the government announced in November that rises would be capped at inflation (RPI) plus 1%, rather than the previously planned plus 3%.

Then again, that still leaves us with an average rise of 6%, which for many could result in the hundreds of pounds.

Railing against the rises

Some routes have even seen prices increase by as much as 11%. Why? Because regulated tickets are grouped into baskets, and although each basket must not exceed an average 6% increase, individual ticket prices within these baskets can ‘flex’ by up to 5%. That means some prices can rise by a total of 11% (as long as others increase by less). Confusing, huh?

Some season tickets have now surpassed £8,000, which is a huge chunk of your pay packet. In fact, figures from Hay Group consultants today showed that many commuters are spending up to a fifth of their wages on getting to work.

Londoners, for example, spend on average 17% of their wages on commuting – and that’s before the Tube is taken into account. Thankfully, I only have to pay for the Underground, but since there’s a 6% rise there as well, I’ll have to cough up an extra £74 this year.

#Farefail for a fair rail

Today’s price rises have led the CBT to organise a day of action against what it calls ‘rip-off rail fares’, urging people to tweet in protest with the hashtag #farefail. In an open letter to the government, the CBT writes:

‘The decision to raise fares year after year takes us further away from a value for money rail service, which is what we need if we are to meet the economic and environmental challenges we all face.’

Perhaps commuters would be happier to accept these rises if there was a visible improvement in rail services? Sadly, improvements are often tough to see, with delayed and cancelled trains common on many lines.

At the end of the day, our rail network is expensive to run and the money has to come from somewhere, whether passengers or taxpayers. The government’s trying to reduce the amount taxpayers invest, but if commuters are struggling to afford tickets is it time to reverse this approach? Commenter Simon thinks so, telling us on a previous Conversation:

‘It would be good if we could all be encouraged to use public transport, in order to fill the buses and trains and reduce our utter personal reliance on guzzling petrol. Only by making the railways an attractive option, both in terms of cost and efficiency, will this be achieved. And sadly, the only fair way to do that is through a subsidy for the long-term benefit of all.’

With fares rising faster than inflation, and wage rises lagging far behind, can you really afford to travel by train any more?

Will the latest rail price rises make you stop travelling by train?

Yes, I'll look for other ways to travel (46%, 169 Votes)

I'll reduce my train journeys when it's practical (35%, 129 Votes)

No, I haven't got any alternatives to train travel (20%, 73 Votes)

Total Voters: 371

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Nigel Whitfield says:
3 January 2012

This year’s rise in London means that my typical trip when I go to work in an office where I spend some of my time has gone up by 6.8%, following all the rises in previous years.

Because I don’t work in the office often enough to merit a season ticket, I have to put up with the Oyster pay as you go fares; thankfully, I can afford to absorb the cost for now, but those who earn far less will certainly find it hard. I’m very probably not alone in not having had an increase in my daily rate since at least 2007.

Many people working on the minimum wage in London will now be spending one hour of their working day – possibly even more – just earning back the cost of getting to and from work in the first place.

Katharine says:
3 January 2012

I commute into London from Swindon. Full peak return fare is about £120 (80 miles each way). I usually pay about £60 by pre-booking on specific trains.

Full peak fare return to Cambridge from London (same distance) is £42. Can someone please explain?

I currently travel into work in London from an Oxfordshire town and the cost of living there + commuting costs into London actually costs the same as it would cost to live in an overpriced flat in London. That was before any increases.

My season ticket has gone up by £8 a week by the looks of things. Allowing for a couple of weeks off a year, that comes to roughly £380 extra a year. Wow.

Time to shut up shop and move to London methinks.

I’ve just moved out of London and have not only had a shock at train prices, but also at the service. Today – my first day of commuting – I already got into the office late, which makes me very angry considering how much I had to pay. I’ll be checking our train delay tool regularly now I’m commuting to see if I can recoup any of the extortionate fares!

Tell me about it! I pay an absolute fortune for my train fare and my train is regularly late…unfortunately I’m entitled to nothing back as I get a season ticket.

Phil says:
5 January 2012

“Today – my first day of commuting – I already got into the office late,”

Hardly surprising considering the weather we’ve had today. There are trees and power lines down all over the place.

Did you also know that you can’t get a refund on any replacement season tickets – so, for example, if you buy an annual ticket and then decide to move within a year, as I did, you forfeit that refund if it’s a replacement? I suppose this aspect is reasonable really, but always used to make me very paranoid about losing mine – especially as an annual ticket was around £4k from Kent – and that was last year!

New year, new price hike and same old service – at least from South West Trains. The first day back yesterday – they terminated my train two stops early and then laid on a ‘replacement’ bus service which didn’t actually run from the station. Also on the way in this morning they had delays due to signal problems at Waterloo.
I fear any price increases on tickets will just be swallowed up by investment to get the HS2 white elephant (the new ‘high-speed’ link from London to the Birmingham) up and running.
South West Trains recently made a big deal about improving capacity – they’ve ordered 60 extra carriages which won’t see service until 2013(!). By my calculations, this means they’ll be adding an extra 3-5% of carriages. Last year some lines saw an increase of more than 4% on passenger numbers. So the new rolling stock won’t even keep up with the existing growth let alone do anything to alleviate current over-crowding.

HS2 will be funded via a “hybrid” bill similar to the ones that built/will build the channel tunnel, HS1, Jubilee line extension, Thameslink and Crossrail. In other words, completely separate to Network Rail’s budget in which electrification and upgrade plans are a plenty.

London – Birmingham is only the first phase, it’s high-speed to the North of England and Scotland in reality.

Count yourself lucky in that the powers that be are still fighting over the award to Siemens of the Thameslink rolling stock procurement. 2013 for your extra carriages? At least it’ll be earlier than the Thameslink ones that are so desperately needed 🙂

And it’s not just train services that are getting pricier – bus fares are going up even more in some areas. According to The Guardian, ‘some regular bus users face a 20% rise in the cost of an annual ticket’ – and some single tickets are rising by 22%. That’s crazy – has anyone noticed bus prices rising in their area?

Brenda says:
4 January 2012

May not have many signatures, but has to start somewhere…


Take the time to sign and forward to people. If it reaches the target it may get those in power to listen to how painful this can be for many.

So far this is the only ‘benefit’ the awful government is giving me – I am a state pensioner living in London on £106 – So travel is “free” (I pay high council tax to pay) though under strict restriction – But on my pittance it is not worth going anywhere as I can’t afford to pay when I get there.

I wonder how many people complaining at the prices voted for John Major to privatise the railways. Problem is, it is not private it is subserdised privatisation much of the money ear marked for the railnetwork ends up in franchisers pockets they dont even own the Trains, we (the public) buy them then they are leased back.
If ALL the money spent by commuters and the non traveling tax payers had been put into the railnetwork it would be alot better than it is and costs could have been held down as the infrastucture would be more reliable, Billions have been put into the railways but nowhere near all of that ends up being used to improve the infrastructure the result is, yes, an improved railway but it has been appauling value for money compared to what it should be like. We have multiple franchises all with their own wages structure their own HR, buocracy,management,ect ect which all have to come out of the tax/fare payers
They even have teams of buck passers from each company sitting around tables arguing whos fault caused a train delay to avoid paying penalties.
IMO the price hike would not have been so heavy if we had a railway that was not so top heavy with huge numbers of private thumbs in the tax/commuters payers pie.
The worldwide bank mess plunged us all into the current recession and pushed the prices of everything skywards cutting subserdies is one way the government can reduce costs but it is very annoying to learn the franchies train operators still will dish out massive bonuses this year and it all comes from us the already squeezed fare/tax paying public.

jenny says:
10 January 2012

Dean great animation, you will have to tell me how you get that; im feeling you bro !

John Doe says:
15 May 2012

I just priced a ticket from High Wycome to Gerrards Cross this used to be £2.80 not so long ago and today it is £5.10 for a journey that is 4 miles and takes 12 mins. What I also can nnot understand is why Chiltern Railways classifys all Trains on this route as Peak at ALL times.
Needless to say, £5.10 + £6 taxi is alot more than what it’ll cost to drive there, so trains its your loss as people are fed up of late trains, you pay the least you should expect is to be able to get to WORK ON TIME!! Is that too much to ask? It seems so.
I dont travel at all on the trains unless it is absolutely essential, I did a recent trip to London from Reading which was ok, however on the return journey around 10:20 on a Thursday there was no room to sit for so many people who were all standing sniffing each others sweaty arm pits. Its a disgrace that these people having worked all day pay SO much in fares and yet they still have to stand up. I just wonder how on earth is the system going to cope come the Olympics!

Every year increase in rail fare in the name of new development or intra structure !….. Where is the motto gone of Govt about to leave your car at home and use more public transport? We have seen that more people are leaving public transport and using their car for cheaper option.We can see our roads are getting very busy . Rail fare is rip off. It is time to renationalise our train and proud to say British Rail.

Yes it’s interesting that as soon as motorists squeal at the upcoming price increase under the road fuel duty accelerator the government backs down and defers it whereas the annual above-inflation railway fares increase just rolls along like a run-away train [although the government has promised to moderate the rate of above-inflation increase in future years]. Unfortunately, both road and rail users are largely captive – the railways would collapse under the strain if all road users defected to rail and likewise if the opposite occurred. Both are equally vital for our economic survival and development so a balanced and equitable distribution of funding is long overdue.

Okay, this is related to train prices (it costs £25.80 a day to catch the train from Manchester to Sheffield) but also to do with the complexity around the structure and limitations of train fares.

A live example…
I purchased a return train ticket from Manchester to Sheffield on the internet last week to travel Friday 23rd November.

My plans changed but I thought this was okay as they were open tickets.

Instead of starting my journey in Manchester, I started in Sheffield so four days later I caught the train from Sheffield to Manchester and used the return portion of the ticket.
This meant that I still had the outbound ticket to use from Manchester to Sheffield which I used tonight on the 17.43 train.

However, Vicki (unique ID 13168) who refused to give me her surname as apparently they don’t give their full names out (a bit of hypocrisy considering we would have to give out our full names in the event of an incident) refused to accept this ticket stating that if you use the return portion of your ticket first this invalidates the outward portion.

However, I was NOT given this advice the morning I caught the train and I showed both tickets to the conductor. If I had, I obviously wouldn’t have used the ticket – which I paid £25.80 for.

So, Vicki then made me pay for my journey again, another £25.80. AND took the invalid ticket from me which I wanted to use as evidence saying that this was the ‘trains property’. This is MY property considering I paid £25.80 for it.

Does this seem fair? Train tickets and fares are already complicated enough without adding in this further dimension. If I have bought train tickets for two journey’s it should not matter how I choose to use them – I have paid my money fair and square.

Is this restriction hidden in the small print somewhere?

Why should I, the customer, be penalised for the incompetence of the train conductors not knowing the restrictions on tickets?

When I asked Vicki, her answer to me was ‘if I’m being honest, they probably didn’t know about the ticket restriction’

Well if their own staff don’t know the ticket restrictions how the hell am I meant to know what they are?

As a consumer, I feel ripped off and completely helpless. Enough is enough surely? When is someone going to regulate train fares as it’s out of control?