The rise and rise of rail fares

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Rail fares are set to rise again today by an average of 3.1%. It had been looking like it might be more than just the rate of inflation until the Chancellor wisely decided to cap the increase for fear of vocal discontent, but passengers will today be rueing the ever increasing cost opf rail travel as a proportion of wages.

Both Action for Rail and Which magazine have noted that people on an average UK salary would spend nearly 14% of their wages on rail commutes. A commuter making comparable journeys in Germany and France would spend about 4%. The figures in Spain and Italy were 3% and 1% respectively.

The key factor here is perhaps less the actual rise in fares, but the fact that wages simply have not increased apace. Thus not only is the cost of travel disproportionately high, but is actively increasing as wages remain stagnant. For many struggling people, rail travel is starting to look like an unsustainable cost.

According to research by the Campaign for Better Transport, even if fares remained frozen in line with inflation until 2019, they would still far outstrip the growth in wage packets

According to the report, between 2008-2013 the cost of a weekly season ticket from Reading in Berkshire to London (including a Travelcard, which allows for bus and Tube travel in London) increased by 25% while average take-home pay rose by just 9%.

A spokesman for the Department for Transport said: "The most recent forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility are that by around 2015 fares will be rising in line with wages and salaries." He said fares were being used "to drive forward the biggest programme of rail modernisation ever, with £38bn being invested over the next five years".

Jason Torrance, the policy director of Sustrans, said: "The chancellor's move to bring an end to the inflation-busting fare rises we've seen over the last decade shows a recognition that rising transport costs are a barrier to economic recovery.

"But commuters will still feel the pinch this new year because salaries aren't increasing by anywhere near the level of inflation. If transport remains so prohibitively expensive, we will continue to restrict travel choices and opportunities to access essential services and employment."

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