Highest fares in Western Europe

3 Jan 2016

UK commuters spend up to six times as much of their salary on rail fares as other European passengers. Commuters on the UK’s privatised railways returning to work tomorrow (Monday) face new fare increases, while spending up to six times as much of their salaries on rail fares as European passengers on publicly-owned railways, new analysis has revealed.

Action for Rail, a campaign by rail unions and the TUC, has compared average earnings with monthly season tickets on similar commuter routes across Europe. The analysis looked at a UK worker onan average salary who is now spending 13% of their monthly wages on a£357.90 monthly season ticket from Chelmsford to London. By contrast, the average amount of salary going on a monthly season ticket for a similar journey is just2% in Italy, 3% in Spain, and 4% in Germany. Even in France, which is the closest to the UK for cost, commuters still spend nearly a third (30%) less on season tickets than their counterparts in the UK.

The comparably high costs of the UK’s privatised railways are reflected by public opinion. A separate new poll for Action for Rail of 1,719 British adults by YouGov found that:

  • 61% say train services in the UK are bad value for money

  • 62% think that fares would be cheaper if train companies weren't trying to make a profit

  • 62% support public ownership of train operating companies

The findings come as rail campaigners and workers plan to hold protests at over 60 stations around the country against fare rises and in support of public ownership. The government points to regulated rail fare rises being capped at the rate of inflation. But Action for Rail says the public will pay for this cap through taxes amounting to£700m over the next five years. Research shows that more than double this (£1.5 billion) could be saved over the same period if the rail franchises up for renewal were returned to the public sector. Researchers at Transport for Quality of Life have estimated that this could fund a 10% reduction in season tickets and other regulated fares from 2017.

Rail campaigners, passengers and rail unions will be outside King's Cross main line station at 8am tomorrow (Monday 4 January) handing out mock tickets to passengers, which highlight the high costs of fares and privatisation and call for public ownership of the railways.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It’s hardly surprising that UK passengers think rail travel is bad value for money. They are shelling out far more of their income on rail fares than their counterparts in Europe. Years of failed privatisation have left us with exorbitant ticket prices, overcrowded trains and ageing infrastructure. It would be nice if ministers woke-up to this reality instead of allowing train companies to milk the system at taxpayers’ and commuters’ expense.”

ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan 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. Commuterst ravelling into London from Kent and Sussex know their £5,000 a year season tickets would be much cheaper under public ownership.”

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Today is national rail rip off day when, along with the looming Christmas credit card bills, the British public awake to another kick in the teeth from the greedy private train companies. We would urge everyone to join with the trade unions to end the money making racket on our rail tracks in 2016.”

TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said: “Profit made on passengers in the UK is not reinvested here, but repatriated to Germany, France, Belgium and Hong Kong to subsidise journeys of passengers there. We need arailway for the future – that means a publicly owned rail service operating in the interests of British passengers, with every penny made in profit reinvested in the railways or in cheaper fares for passengers.”

Unite national officer for passenger transport Bobby Morton said: “European state-owned rail companies provide excellent services and cheaper fares as part of coherent national economic strategies. The UK government's ideological reliance on the profit-hungry private sector has been a disaster – and the majority of the public wants the railways taken back into public ownership.”

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