It’s a story we’re all too familiar with. In January next year, commuters can expect to see their season ticket fares increase by up to 11% – but can we really afford yet more price rises?
So, the average rail fare price increase in January every year is worked out by adding 3% to the Retail Price Index (RPI) in July the year before.
This year, RPI is expected to come in at 3.2%, making the average train fare increase in 2013 around 6.2%. However, rail companies can increase some fares by as much as 11%, as long as the overall average fare increase comes to 6.2%.
As a regular commuter, I’m used to seeing prices go up. But as salaries in the UK continue to stagnate, I don’t see how this can carry on. If my own season ticket from Chatham in Kent to London Bridge were to go up by 6% next year, I’ll be paying an extra £211 a year. In case you’re wondering – that’s £3,735 for my annual ticket. Ouch.
Too expensive to work
My biggest issue is the wider impact of these increases. It shouldn’t be assumed that a person who works in London receives an impressive salary and can afford these fares. I live in Kent and know many people who commute to London simply to receive a liveable salary, as local jobs are rarely available and poorly paid. And I’m sure this isn’t just a Kent-based phenomenon.
So what happens when we price these people out of travelling to London to work? Local job markets may become completely saturated. It could become more cost effective to move closer to London than to live in the suburbs, driving up house and rental prices near the capital even further. Economy in the suburbs might suffer and people’s standard of living could go down.
Can I get a seat with that?
My second issue is the lack of visible improvements that come as a result of fare increases. If paying a few extra hundred pounds a year meant I’d get a seat on my morning train, I might just grumble quietly. If it meant my trains ran on time and weren’t randomly cancelled, I might just grin and bear it.
But considering that my services are few and far between, overcrowded and uncomfortable, it’s hard to accept having to pay more for my ticket (Southeastern has imposed 3% plus RPI fare rises since 2007!). As a Kent dweller, you might point to the HS1. But although it’s a fantastic train, an annual HS1 ticket is £120 a month more expensive, so why should other commuters have to subsidise it?
Finally, the fare increases vary depending on where you live. For example, Yorkshire has suffered similar increases, which arguably haven’t been reflected in rail investment.
Our executive director Richard Lloyd commented on the price rises:
‘Price rises well above inflation will be a nasty shock for many households who are already struggling with rising bills. The government should think again about allowing these fare rises, and instead put consumers first if they want to do more to support the economy.’
In the end, rail companies have commuters over a barrel. Are you, like me, worried that increasing fares will eventually price you out of commuting? Do you think the quality of your rail service reflects price rises?