Rail fares could rise by 3.5% from January, economists have warned.
The forecast has been greeted with widespread dismay, following a summer of cancellations and delays for many rail passengers.
The exact increase will be announced on Wednesday when the July Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure of inflation is released by the Office for National Statistics. However, economists at specialist bank Investec and forecasting group EY Item Club are predicting that July’s RPI will come in at 3.5%.
The Department for Transport uses July’s RPI to determine the annual increase in train fares for the following January, which would include season tickets for most commuter routes, anytime tickets for major cities, as well as some off-peak return tickets.
For long distance commuters, the increase could result in an extra annual cost of £150 next year.
“Nothing short of a scandal”
According to research produced by the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, rail fares have increased at twice the speed of wages since 2010.
RMT noted that rail fares have risen by around 32% over the past nine years, while average weekly earnings have only grown by 16% using the RPI as a measure.
Someone who is commuting from Gravesend to London on the high-speed Javelin service currently pays £5,828 for their annual season ticket, which represents 18% of their average annual earnings. In comparison, RMT said a German commuter who uses the high-speed ICE service from Dusseldorf to Cologne only spends £2,976, accounting for 8% of average earnings.
“Despite all the timetable chaos and service and staff cuts our rail fares are up to five times more than fares in Europe and are rising twice as fast as wages. That is nothing short of a scandal,” says RMT General Secretary Mick Cash.
Steve Chambers from the Campaign for Better Transport has called on the government to announce an annual announce rail fare freeze, given the broad deterioration of service that many commuters have experienced.
“Given the mess surrounding the new timetable, the lack of improvements and the failure to quickly deliver compensation, the government cannot go on telling passengers that fare increases are justified.
“Many passengers have seen rail services deteriorate this year; many will not see improvements next year. On top of that, wages are still stagnating, so a 3.5% increase will hit households hard,” he says.
Last January, commuters were hit with the largest average fare hike in five years of 3.4%.