Ministers under fire as latest rail fare hikes herald 'another decade of misery' for commuters
Ministers have been accused of presiding over “another decade of misery” on the railways as the latest hikes to train fares kicks in.
Rail fares will rise by an average of 2.7% from today, sparking fury from campaign groups who warned that some long-distance commuters will see more than £100 added to the cost of their annual season ticket.
Labour said ticket prices had soared by by 40% since 2010, while pressure group Railfuture warned that fares were "outstripping people's incomes".
But Transport Secretary Grant Shapps insisted the government was focused on "putting passengers first", while rail bosses talked up a host of new services being added to Britain's networks.
Fares regulated by the government - accounting for about half of all tickets sold - will rise by up to 2.8% from Thursday, while the average rise across all types of ticket is 2.7%.
The rise is currently pegged to the Retail Price Index measure of inflation, but campaigners argue that the lower Consumer Prices Index measure would have given commuters a fairer deal.
Bruce Williamson of Railfuture said: “Welcome to another decade of misery for rail passengers. How on earth is the government going to meet its climate commitments by pricing people off environmentally friendly trains and on to our polluted and congested roads?”
Darren Shirley, the chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, said: "Rail passengers are tired of rising fares and broken promises. It’s time for a complete overhaul of the fares system and a fairer way to calculate future level [of fares]."
Meanwhile Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald accused ministers of failing to support public transport or tackle climate change and congestion on the roads.
The Labour frontbencher added: "Today's average fare increase means ticket prices have risen by 40% since 2010.
"In contrast, rail fares in Germany were cut by 10% yesterday. Labour pledged to cut rail fares by 33% to encourage people to get out of their cars and get on the train."
In a bid to stem anger about the rises, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps on Thursday announced plans to trial a new system of "flexible" season tickets that will hand discounts to part-time workers who commute for only three or four days a week.
The move comes ahead of a major review of the rail system by former Royal Mail boss Keith Williams, which is due to report in the coming weeks.
Mr Shapps said: "This Government will improve the railway system to ensure the focus is always on putting passengers first.
"This commitment begins with the launch of innovative fares trials, to help explore the benefits and costs of a clearer, more flexible and fairer fares system."
And Mr Williams said: "The trial launched today will help to shape my recommendations for a fairer, more flexible and modern service, which better reflects the way people want to travel."
The price hikes were meanwhile defended by the Rail Delivery Group, the umbrella group for Britain's train companies.
The organisation's director of nations and regions, Robert Nisbet, said: "We know that no-one wants to pay more to travel, and rail companies have, for the third year in a row, held average fare increases below inflation while continuing to deliver investment in new trains and extra services that will improve journeys for customers."
Mr Nisbet said 1,000 extra weekly services and 1,000 more carriages would be added to Britain's rail feet in 2020.