Stop next price hike for Southern train tickets says Eastbourne MP

Eastbourne MP Stephen Lloyd talking about problems experienced by passengers using Southern services in Parliament
Eastbourne MP Stephen Lloyd talking about problems experienced by passengers using Southern services in Parliament

Eastbourne’s MP has opposed any price hike for Southern train tickets due to the ‘shambolic’ service recently suffered by passengers.

Services run by Govia Thameslink Railway have experienced problems since a massive shake-up of train timetables in May.

Both operator GTR and Network Rail apologised, with the late sign-off of the changes blamed for cancellations and disruption.

A 3.5 per cent increase in regulated rail fares is expected to be confirmed this week when the Office for National Statistics reveals the July inflation rate – the figure used to set ticket price rises for the following January.

Analysis by the RMT union shows rail fares have increased at twice the rate of wages since 2010.

Stephen Lloyd, Lib Dem MP for Eastbourne, said: “It would be utterly absurd for Southern Rail to receive any increase in January next year. Frankly there service was so shambolic over the recent timetable changes I think Eastbourne commuters deserve a refund, and I made this point in Parliament when I quizzed the rail minister. His answer was along the lines that it wasn’t bad enough to warrant that, which begs the question just how much worse does it have to get?

“Meanwhile, at the least, I will be urging the Government to resist any temptation to allow a fare increase in 2019. They have the power to do so and I will be challenging them to use it for the good of long-suffering rail users for a change.”

The Department for Transport (DfT) uses the Retail Prices Index (RPI) inflation measure each July to determine the annual increase in regulated train fares, including season tickets on most commuter routes.

A DfT spokesman said: “Any fare increase is unwelcome, but it is not fair to ask people who do not use trains to pay more for those who do.

“Taxpayers already subsidise the network by more than £4 billion a year – meaning that 38 per cent of our transport budget is spent on the two per cent of journeys that the railway accounts for.”

Both the RMT and train drivers’ union ASLEF criticised the likely fare rises.

Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT, said: “Despite all the timetable chaos and service and staff cuts our rail fares are up to 5 times more than fares in Europe and are rising twice as fast as wages. That is nothing short of a scandal.

“Even if fares were pegged at the more modest CPI [Consumer Price Index] these latest increases would still massively outstrip wages leaving the British passenger to pay through the nose to travel on rammed out and unreliable services.”

Meanwhile Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF, singled out transport secretary Chris Grayling for criticism.

He said: “Mr Grayling wants passengers to pay more for a poorer service. That’s not a great offer, is it? For passengers – or voters at the next election.

“Commuters complain about persistent delays and cancellations, the consumer group Which? says the privatised train operators are one of this country’s least-trusted groups – beaten to bottom place only by second-hand car dealers – wages aren’t keeping up with inflation and yet Mr Grayling is pushing up prices yet again. What a way to run the railway.”

But James Price, campaign manager at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “It would be wrong to announce any kind of rail fares freeze, as it would hurt both rail users as well as all taxpayers who subsidise rail in the UK, whether or not they use trains.

“Taxpayers would be subsidising wealthier rail users to the tune of more than £1 billion over a parliament if fares were frozen and rail users would suffer a worse experience from more crowded trains and more delays.”