By Mark Shields and Chris Bishop
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Rail fare protesters took to station platforms in East Anglia yesterday to voice their anger at ticket prices they claim have rocketed 26pc since the beginning of the recession.
Downham Market and Ely were just two of 50 stations across the country which saw rush-hour demonstrations by members of the Action for Rail pressure group, which says passengers are being driven into “transport poverty”.
They handed out mock Christmas cards to passengers, supposedly from train companies, which said “Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year – for us”, and warned of ticket office closures, staff cuts and service disruptions across the country.
But train companies last night denied the pressure group’s claims, while the Association of Train Operating Companies said the figure of 26pc was “misleading” and did not include cheaper fares which brought the true level of the rise to 8.6pc.
Peter Smith, of the South West Norfolk Labour party, was among those protesting at Downham Market station yesterday, and said around 400 fake Christmas cards had been handed out at stations along the line.
He said: “The reaction has been absolutely positive as far as what passengers are saying. If we renationalise the railways, everbody wins.”
Jackie Alderson, of Stoke Ferry, was at the station with her husband William, a member of the GMB union. She said: “What we are concerned about is not just that the fares will go up and there will be fewer staff, but that it will discourage people from using the railways.”
Action for Rail involves unions including the TUC, RMT, TSSA, Aslef and Unite.
Nigel Gibson, district organiser for Aslef, said the fare rises were “unsustainable”, with passengers spending up to a quarter of their income on rail tickets.
“What are people paying for? What we see is companies cutting costs wherever they can,” he said.
Atoc last week revealed an average price rise of 3.9pc for all tickets, following the announcement that regulated tickets and season tickets would rise by an average of 4.2pc in 2013 in accordance with the government’s guideline of 1pc above inflation.
The changes mean the price of a peak Anytime return ticket from Norwich to London has climbed 9.2pc, from £98.60 to £107.70. The price of an annual season ticket, as reported previously, will rise from £6,900 to £7,184.
The train operators running services in Norfolk and north Suffolk have defended the rises.
East Midlands Trains, whose fares went up an average of 4pc, said money would be investing in trains and stations, as did Greater Anglia, whose fares rose by an average of 4.3pc.
A spokesman for Greater Anglia said the “vast majority” of tickets sold on the mainline route between Norwich and London were discounted, and the £107.70 Anytime ticket represented just one journey in eight on the line, while the cheapest advance fares to London had been frozen at £8.
She added that the operator had no plans to reduce staff numbers or close any ticket offices, and highlighted the significant investments made in staff, stations and services since taking over the franchise in February.
A First Capital Connect spokesman said it had not raised any of its prices by more than the 4.2pc recommended, and also ruled out plans to close ticket offices, and pointed out that opening times had recently been extended at Downham Market.
Responding to the Action for Rail claims, an Atoc spokesman said: “The TUC’s figure is misleading.
“The average price per journey actually paid by passengers over the last four years has gone up by 8.6pc, much less than the 18pc increase in inflation over the same period. The overall level of fares is determined by government policy.”