Labour brands latest rail fare hikes an 'affront' as commuters head back to work
Labour has ripped into the Government's handling of the railways as commuters braced themselves for a 3.1% hike to train fares.
Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald accused the Government of presiding over a "national disgrace", and pointed to fresh analysis showing that the cost of some season tickets has soared by thousands of pounds since the Conservatives came to power in 2010.
The attack came as ministers unveiled a new railcard for 16-17 year-olds, in a move Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said would allow up to 1.2 million more young people to get a 50% discount on rail travel in time for the new academic year in September.
But Mr McDonald said: "Today’s rail fare increases are an affront to everyone who has had to endure years of chaos on Britain’s railways.
"Falling standards and rising fairs are a national disgrace. The Government must now step in to freeze fares on the worst performing routes.
"Labour will bring our railways back into public ownership so they are run in the interests of passengers, not private profit."
Forty-percent of rail fares in England, Scotland and Wales are regulated by the Government, meaning they can only rise by as much as the Retail Price Index measure of inflation, which stood at 3.2% last year.
The Rail Delivery Group - which represents train firms - announced in November that fares would rise by 3.1% from today, just shy of the cost-of-living increase.
According to Labour's analysis of 180 routes, today's hike still means the average commuter will now be paying £2,980 for a season ticket, some £786 more than in 2010.
Mr Grayling has urged rail bosses and unions to instead use the lower Consumer Price Index measure of inflation when setting fares and wages, with a "root and branch" review of the system currently underway.
The Transport Secretary meanwhile announced that a new railcard for 16 and 17 year olds would be made available in the summer, offering a 50% discount on season tickets, travel cards and peak, off-peak services.
"The new 16 & 17 and 26 to 30 railcard will cut fares for a generation of travellers, ensuring more young people than ever will be able to travel on our railways for less," he said.
"Today’s announcement of a new 16 & 17 Railcard could cut the cost of travel by hundreds of pounds a year for young people and their parents, making it cheaper to get to school, college and work.
"This builds on the roll-out of the new 26 to 30 Railcard and our record investment into our railways, ensuring people get the frequent, affordable and reliable journeys they deserve.”
But Labour accused him of "choosing not to" use existing powers to force companies to slash fares outright.
The highest increase found by the party was for a Virgin Trains season ticket between Birmingham and London Euston, which will now set commuters back £10,902 a year. That represents a £2,874 rise on 2010 levels.
Meanwhile the cost of travelling from Thame Bridge Parkway near Walsall to Nuneaton has risen by 54% since 2010, the biggest percentage-terms increase over the period.
The Opposition has called on ministers to freeze rail fares on the routes most affected by a botched series of timetable changes last year, including services run by Govia Thameslink, Arriva Rail North and First Transpennine Express.