Roger Gale, the Conservative MP for North Thanet, has predicted civil unrest amongst commuters after the announcement that rail fairs are set to increase by double the rate of inflation in 2009.
This astonishing claim comes as Southeastern, whose service Gale's constituents use to travel into London from towns such as Margate and Herne Hill have been given permission by the government to increase their fares by an average of eight percent, almost double UK inflation, which stood at 4.5% in October 2008.
Mr Gale has described the predicted increases as “intolerable” and suggested that the prices rises could “lead to civil disobedience”.
Southeastern bypassed Mr Gale's concerns in a letter to the MP, stating that: “the high speed services to St. Pancras will reduce journey times from some stations and will provide more choice for customers”. Perhaps, but that statement of fact doesn't meet Mr Gale's original concerns. Many of his constituents will not be travelling to St. Pancras and therefore will experience no gain from the high speed services and will, effectively, be paying more for exactly the same service.
The issue of annual fare increases causes perennial controversy. Passenger groups rightly note that if services are not being improved then why should costs increase at above-inflation rates, while service providers cite increased overheads and the need for investment as necessitating tickets price hikes.
“No fare rises are welcome in the current economic climate. These fare rises hark back to a time of high inflation and spiralling energy costs. The economy is different now, but the seemingly unstoppable rail price express ploughs on."
Anthony Smith, Chief Executive of Passenger Focus
It is vital that commuters and businesses get to see where their money, and feel the benefits, is going if increases are to continue unchecked. LondonUnlocked argued in July that there is a lack of coherent strategy for the UK’s rail lines which would justify price increases and hefty bonuses. This needs to change.
With fuel prices still high and environmental concerns near the top of the public agenda this is the ideal time to encourage people to choose public transport instead of their cars. The Government needs to be looking at ways to ensure that the rail system into and around London is a viable and cost-effective alternative for commuters. Unrealistic and unfair price hikes in a time of recession will do little to achieve these ends and could lead, as Mr. Gale suggests, to legitimate outrage.