WEST MIDLANDS commuters are outraged at having to spend up to five times more on rail fares than other Europeans.
The TUC’s (Trades Union Congress) research into UK rail fares coincides with the biggest fare increase in half a decade, which comes into force this week.
UK workers on average salaries will have to fork out around 11 per cent of their pay to travel to commute to work in different parts of the region, according to the TUC.
The Midlands Campaign for Better Transport has criticised the decision not to freeze rail fares which they say has left the average commuter coming into Birmingham £65 worse off – with the average season ticket into Birmingham going up by twice as much as last year.
Solihull Labour undertook the ‘Solihull Rail Fare Campaign’ yesterday and managed to visit seven local railways stations to stage 12 campaign sessions. Around 60 people showed up to vent their frustration.
Nick Stephens, chair of Solihull and Meriden Labour Party, said: “Workers were hit hard by these increases as they returned to work after the Christmas break.
“We need to bring the railways back under public ownership so that money isn’t being siphoned off to shareholders – in many cases foreign companies like the German owned Chiltern railways and the new West Midlands Train company which is jointly owned by the Dutch and Japanese.
“Many commuters were unhappy with these rises, and we were well received and we got a lot of support for our campaign.
“These fare rises will put people off using our trains when we need to encourage greater use of public transport.”
To heap more misery on passengers, rail fares are also set to rise a third faster than wages in the UK.
Wages are set to grow by only 2.6 per cent in 2018, while season tickets will go up by 3.6 per cent.
The news has also stoked the fire in the debate about renationalisation of the railways and the cost of living.
The TUC and many Labour MPs have used this opportunity to criticise unsustainable and unfair price rises as symptomatic of system wide failures following the outsourcing of rail services to a network of private train operators in 1997.
Critics have focused on comparatively efficient and cheap rail services, some state owned, in European countries like Germany.
TUC Midlands, regional secretary Lee Barron said: “A new year, but the same old story, with rail commuters yet again facing rip off price rises.
“Wages are already stretched, and this latest increase will further eat into the pay packets of commuters across the Midlands.
“It doesn’t need to be this way. Commuters across Europe have access to reasonably-priced travel on public railways and it’s about time that we had a change of approach and gave commuters a break.
“Employers can help out by offering zero-interest season ticket loans, or offering more flexible work hours and locations.
“But ultimately the government need to take our railways back into public hands.
“That will stop hundreds of millions being siphoned off by private rail firms, and allow us to put passengers first.”
Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, said: “On average, fares will rise by less than inflation this year. “For every pound paid in fares, 97p goes directly back to operating and improving services and, with more people travelling, that means more money for investment by the private and public partnership railway to build the better network Britain needs.
“Working together in partnership across the industry and with government our long-term plan to improve will secure £85bn of additional economic benefits while enabling further investment and improvement for customers, communities and our people.