‘Scandal’ of rail fares 50% more than Europe

19 February 2009

ASLEF general secretary Keith Norman says it is ‘a scandal’ that rail fares in the UK cost 50% more than they do on the Continent. ‘It is not enough for transport minister Andrew Adonis to say that the only way to reduce fares is to raise taxes. The government doesn’t say this when it doles out money to the banks – so why should rail passengers be treated differently from the financial elite? The only difference I see is that passengers – unlike bankers - have done no wrong.’

 

Keith says that the relatively high cost of UK rail travel puts the government’s whole environmental strategy in chaos. ‘We will find passengers turning away from the clean transport option of rail and returning to their cars,’ he says. ‘It doesn’t need a Treasury boffin to deduce that high prices stop demand.’

 

The union fears that the gap between UK and Continental rail fares will keep rising if the government continues to insist that passengers should bear 75% of the burden of paying for the railways by 2014 – and points out that facilities are often better abroad. The government aims to drop its investment from about £5bn a year to £3bn, while it expects fare payers to contribute £9bn to the rail network by 2014. Inevitably this would mean making UK fares even more expensive.

 

Meanwhile the Department for Transport said today that it would cost some £500m a year to bring fares into line with other European countries.

 

‘Perhaps the government should be talking to the rail companies about the profits they are making before deciding to bash the passenger,’ Keith says. ‘After all, Go-Ahead Group made an operating profit of £77.2 in the year to last June, Stagecoach, had pre-tax profits of £105.2 million for the six months to September and First Group recorded an interim six-month operating profit of £48.3 million to September.’

 

The Passenger Focus study, which was prepared at the request of ministers, reveals that

 

• A commuter travelling between 10.6 and 25 miles each morning to London spends an average £1,859.96 on an annual season ticket, compared with £990 in the next most expensive country, France, and £443,69 in the cheapest country, Italy.

 

• A passenger travelling between 25 miles and 50 miles to London faces an average annual ticket cost of £3,188.68 compared with £1934.89 in the second most expensive country, Holland, and £683.20 in the cheapest, Italy.

 

• Unrestricted day returns to London for a trip of between 10.6 and 25 miles costs an average £11.57 while a similar journey costs £6.88 in Germany and £3.63 in France.

 

• A walk-up day return to London, from up to 50 miles away, could cost more than £250, whereas no similar fare in France would exceed £100.

 

Passenger Focus said posters should be put up at stations showing the cheapest prices to different destinations and the travel restrictions, pointing out that the system for buying tickets for long-distance journeys is too complex and needs to be more transparent.

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