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Commuter chaos: why are our rail fares so expensive?

Commuter chaos: why are our rail fares so expensive?

At the beginning of the year, amidst the reports of train fares going up yet again by 1.1% in 2016, commuters staged protests at various stations across London to show their anger at rising prices with no obvious improvement in services. Largely, this protest fell upon deaf ears.

In a recent survey by Action for Rail (a campaign by rail unions and the TUC) it was revealed that some UK commuters are spending 13% of their monthly salaries on rail travel, compared to commuters in Italy who currently pay just 2%. According to consumer surveys, the average amount of a person’s salary being spent on a similar monthly season ticket is 2% in Italy, 3% in Spain and 4% in Germany. With recent online polls showing that in the UK we spend 6 times more on rail travel per year than most European countries, it begs the question – just why are we spending so much on train fares?

The short answer is privatisation and less financial input from the UK government (our government currently put in around 50% less than the German government puts into their rail system, for example).

Frances O'Grady, TUC’s general secretary, said: "Years of failed privatisation have left us with exorbitant ticket prices, overcrowded trains and ageing infrastructure. Ministers need to wake up to this reality instead of allowing train companies to milk the system at taxpayers' and commuters' expense."

Mick Whelan, from the train diver union Aslef said: "Taking the railways back into public hands is a popular policy. The vast majority of voters - Conservative included - are fed up with paying sky-high fares so the privatised train companies can take their slice. Commuters travelling into London from Kent and Sussex know their £5,000 a year season tickets would be much cheaper under public ownership."

The result is a fragmented, inefficient rail service with an ageing infrastructure and high fares that have gone up every year for the past six years.

The small amount of good news for commuters is that a 1.1% average increase in the cost of train tickets in the UK has now come into effect. The rise in regulated fares is capped at no more than July's RPI inflation rate of 1%, but unregulated fares (such as off-peak tickets) can go up by as much as the train companies choose. Sadly, those increased fares have also led to no real improvement in services, with a recent train company survey showing a 1.6% de-crease in punctuality since the previous year.

In an effort to make rail travel fairer for UK passengers, Which? launched a ‘super complaint’ to the Office of Rail and Road recently, calling for an investigation into rail delay refunds and calling for action to make the process clearer and easier for consumers. It may not help current UK rail passengers with their steep season ticket costs, but it may encourage rail companies to be more accountable and to provide some compensation for their poor service.

What do you think? Do we pay too much for our rail fares? Or do you think the cost is worth it? Join in the discussion now on our Facebook page.

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