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Rise in rail ticket prices criticised by watchdog

Michael Roberts, Association of Train Operating Companies: "This is good news for passengers"

Rail watchdog Passenger Focus has criticised the new year rise in fares, which have gone up by an average 1.1%.

Season tickets and standard day tickets might see a "very small reduction" in cost, but some of unregulated ticket hikes were "quite stinging", it said.

Another campaign group said fares should be cut to the European average.

The Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc) said the majority of passengers would see "a fall, no rise or an increase below inflation".

Tube fares in London will go up by an average of 3.9%. London bus fares paid using an Oyster card rise by 20p to £1.20.

However, some rail fares will go down by 0.4% because the annual rise for regulated fares is linked to Retail Prices Index (RPI) inflation.

Unregulated fares, which include many off-peak services, are rising.

This means, for example, that a supersaver fare from London to Swindon in Wiltshire will increase by 15% to £23.

Ashwin Kumar, from Passenger Focus, said the train companies were being unfair.

"When it's convenient for them, they compare their price rises with predicted inflation, whereas a year ago, when inflation was on its way down, they compared their price rises with the previous year's inflation.

"Actually, what they should be doing, is comparing their price rises with last July's inflation which was minus 1.4%," he said.

An Atoc spokesman said the predicted rate of RPI inflation was 2.6% in January - and was expected to remain above 1.1% throughout 2010 - which meant passengers were getting "real terms cuts".

'Fare freezes'

But Passenger Focus said there needed to be more transparency because some trains were "fiddling with time restrictions".

Mr Kumar said: "For example, with Virgin Trains, an off-peak return from London to Manchester - people normally pay £66.40 and can get the 9.20am train. After this weekend they will have to wait until 9.40am - they are effectively putting the price up for some journeys."

Campaign for Better Transport said UK train fares were already 20% higher than the European average and urged the government to review rail fare regulation.

UK train fares are already 20% higher than the European average so the government needs to make serious cuts to make taking the train affordable
Cat Hobbs, Campaign for Better Transport

Atoc was criticised earlier this year for not itemising, as it normally does, each train company's average unregulated fares rise.

Some train companies, however, have given details of their unregulated fare rises.

Virgin Trains is increasing unregulated fares by an average of 2.8%, while ScotRail's rise is 3%, and turn-up-and-go fares on Southern trains will go up by 4%.

A number of companies, including National Express East Anglia, First Capital Connect, TransPennine Express and Merseyrail have frozen their unregulated fares.

But the Southeastern train company said some of its unregulated fares were rising 7.3% and others by 2.8%.

The company has just introduced 140mph high-speed Javelin trains on its Kent services into London, and the increases mean Southeastern passengers will find their season tickets going up by 1.6% whether they use the Javelin trains or not.

'Too little, too late'

Michael Roberts, chief executive of the Atoc, said: "Not only is this the lowest rise since privatisation, it also comes in below the expected rate of inflation, representing a real-terms cut in fares for many passengers.

"The rail regulator's figures show that the average price paid for a single journey is just £5.05. The 1.1% increase will mean this figure will rise by 6p to £5.11."

Transport Secretary Lord Adonis said the reductions were "good news" for many passengers.

"For the first time in a generation they will see the cost of their tickets fall. I hope that this will encourage more people to travel by train, which is also good news for the economy and the environment."

The Campaign for Better Transport's public transport campaigner, Cat Hobbs, said: "Regulated fares will fall by 4p for every £10 paid.

"This is too little, too late for passengers who are already paying hundreds of pounds more because of the government's policy of increasing fares.

London Mayor Boris Johnson defended the Tube and bus increases.

"I know the fares rises will be hard but, believe me, without them these huge improvements in our quality of life - and the retention of the standing of our city - would not be possible," he said.



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