Rail commuters face misery today (1 March), as the highest train fare rises for nine years take effect while London’s Underground network is crippled by a strike over cuts to jobs and pensions.
Regulated train fares in England and Wales have risen by up to 3.8%, including fares on most commuter routes and season tickets. This is the steepest increase since January 2013, according to the Rail Delivery Group.
The increase comes at a time when the UK’s cost of living is rising at the fastest pace for 30 years; the current retail prices index measure of inflation stands at 7.8%.
The government traditionally increases train fares every January at the rate of RPI plus 1%, but this year’s increase – delayed in light of the pandemic – is based on last July’s RPI rate, as the government and train operators attempt to encourage more workers back into city and town centres.
The Department for Transport said: “We have protected passengers by delaying these fare rises by two months and, even then, opting for a figure well below current inflation rates.
“However, we must now look to recoup some of the £14bn which was spent to keep vital services running throughout the pandemic in a way that is fair for all taxpayers.”
The Rail Delivery Group said: “It is important that fares are set at a level that will encourage more people to travel by train in the future, helping to support a clean and fair recovery from the pandemic.”
Meanwhile, 10,000 tube workers are taking strike action today, which has made getting into work challenging for many London commuters.
The members of the Rail and Maritime Transport (RMT) union claimed London Underground had refused to rule out plans to cut 600 jobs and scrap its final salary pension scheme.
Last week it was reported that London Mayor Sadiq Khan had agreed to submit pension proposals to the government by the end of March.
“The mayor has to decide if he is on the side of key workers who have kept London moving during the pandemic or Tory ministers hellbent on punishing tube workers,” said RMT general secretary Mick Lynch.
“This dispute can be solved if the mayor meets the reasonable demands of his own workforce.”
The union pointed out that the mayor had previously said that requiring London Underground workers to pay more into thier pension funds would be “neither fair nor reasonable”.
The Tube workers are expected to strike again on Thursday (3 March).
Transport for London (TfL) urged people to work from home where possible or consider taking different modes of transport and allow extra time for journeys.
The planned action is also likely to severely impact services on Wednesday 2 March and Friday 4 March, particularly up until 09:00, TfL said.
Chief operating officer Andy Rain said: “We haven’t proposed any changes to pensions or terms and conditions, and nobody has or will lose their jobs because of the proposals we have set out, so this action is completely unnecessary.
“We know our customers deserve better than this and that is why we’re urging the RMT to talk to us so we can find a resolution to this dispute and call off this action, which is threatening London’s recovery from the pandemic.”
TfL claimed that fewer than 50% of RMT’s members voted in favour of industrial action.
It said it needed to speed up its pre-pandemic saving programme, which required it to bring staffing levels in line with customer need. It acknowledged that it would “protect as many jobs as possible for the people who work for TfL today”, but would not recruit into certain currently vacant posts.
It added that there were no plans to change pensions, with former Acas chief Sir Brendan Barber and pensions expert Joanne Segars leading and facilitating an independent review of its pension arrangements, which is a condition of its funding agreement with the government.