Train users set to benefit from lower fare rises
A cap is to be placed on the amount by which rail companies can increase rail fares in England, the government has said, putting to an end double-digit increases faced by commuters and passengers in recent years.
The transport secretary said train-operating companies will no longer be able to increase individual fares by 5% above inflation each year - instead, rises will be capped at 2% above inflation.
The fares and ticketing review, published by transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin, also outlines proposals to offer cheaper season tickets to part-time workers, new rules to ensure station ticket offices open at sensible times, and a code of conduct that will force rail firms to make it easier for passengers to find the most suitable ticket.
Rail companies are legally allowed to add an extra 5% to some individual fares - but only if the average rise across all regulated fares works out at 1% above inflation (as measured by the Retail Prices Index). However, the new rules mean that the extra 5% will fall to just 2%
Patrick McLoughlin MP said: "By capping fares we are protecting passengers from large rises at a time when family incomes are already being squeezed. We will need to wait for the rail industry to calculate individual ticket prices for next year, but this cap could save some commuters as much as £200 a year."
The news did not thrill consumer groups, who pointed out that millions of people have had to absorb soaring ticket prices of up to 10% - and the latest proposals will do nothing to prevent inflation-busting rises in the future.
Critics also said the new rules will still allow rail companies to levy lower percentage increases on quiet routes and larger increases on busier routes, helping them maximise income at commuters' expense.
"This is bitter news for everyone who relies on the train to get to work, not least the large number of commuters in marginal constituencies who will be a key group at the next election."
Bob Crow, leader of the RMT transport union, added: "This is a total con that will still leave the vast majority paying inflation-busting fares to pump up the profits of the private train operators. For a few it will feel like having your wallet nicked with the mugger then handing you a few bob back to buy a pint. Nobody will be fooled by this political stunt."
"This will allow passengers to plan with a bit more certainty and have confidence that actual regulated fare rises will bear more relation to the figures set by government."
David Mapp, commercial director at the Association of Train Operating Companies, said: "Train companies and passengers will welcome the planned reduction. The reduction being proposed is in line with that suggested by train companies and should help to encourage greater rail use.
"The package of measures, which train companies have worked with the government to draw up, should make it quicker and easier than ever for people to get the best value ticket for their rail journey."
However, the 4.1% rise due to be introduced in January will remain in place as it was determined before the new proposals.
An increase in the general level of prices that persists over a period of time. The inflation rate is a measure of the average change over a period, usually 12 months. If inflation is up 4%, this means the price of products and services is 4% higher than a year earlier, requiring we spend and extra 4% to buy the same things we bought 12 months ago and that any savings and investments must generate 4% (after any taxes) to keep pace with inflation. Since 2003, the Bank of England has used the consumer prices index (CPI) as its official measure of inflation (see also retail prices index).