As many people prepare for their first day back to work after the Christmas break, rail campaigners are warning that commuters on the UK’s privatised railways could be spending more than twice as much of their salary on rail travel than passengers on publicly-owned railways in France, Germany, Spain and Italy.
The TUC’s and rail union’s Action for Rail (AfR) campaign has compared average earnings with monthly season tickets covering similar commuter routes across Europe. This analysis, published today, reveals that commuters using privatised rail services in the UK are paying higher fares and spending substantially more of their wages on rail travel to work than commuters using publicly-owned railways elsewhere in Europe.
Taking into account fare increases, the analysis gives the example of a UK worker on an average salary who is now spending 17 per cent of their monthly wages on a £391 monthly season ticket from Brighton to London. However, over in Europe workers making similar journeys in Germany spent 9 per cent of their salary on train fares, in France 12 per cent and in Spain and Italy just six per cent.
Regulated rail fares, including season tickets, rose by up to 2.5 per cent at the start of 2015, adding extra misery to the squeeze on living standards, says AfR. Under the coalition government fares have risen more than two and a half times faster than average wage increases.
Since 2010, fares have increased by 27 per cent. Three quarters of rail franchises in the UK are now owned by foreign state-owned or backed rail companies. High fares in the UK are in effect subsidising rail investment and lower fares in other countries.
AfR believes that high rail fares in the UK are in part down to the additional costs of rail privatisation. Research by campaign group Transport for Quality of Life (TFQL) shows that extra costs of over £1bn per year are being incurred through a combination of debt write-offs, dividend payments to private investors and various administrative and legal costs. TFQL estimate that fare cuts of up to 18 per cent could be achieved if these costs were eliminated by bringing services back within a nationally-integrated railway under public ownership.
Rail campaigners, passengers and rail unions were outside London Kings Cross mainline station (on the edge of Kings Cross Square) at 8am on 2nd January handing out mock tickets to passengers, which highlighted the high costs of fares and privatisation and call for public ownership of the railways.
Protestors were joined at Kings Cross by ASLEF General Secretary Mick Whelan, RMT General Secretary Mick Cash and TSSA General Secretary Manuel Cortes.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“This year’s fare hike will hit passengers particularly hard because wages are rising so slowly.
“Rail fares are now consuming a huge proportion of people’s wages, leaving precious little for other bread and butter expenses. On average passengers are now paying £600 more for a season ticket and yet seeing no change in their pay packets.
“The cost to passengers of the failed privatisation of our railways cannot be ignored. We’ve ended up with slower trains and higher fares than countries who have kept their trains in public hands.”
ASLEF General Secretary Mick Whelan said:
“We cannot continue to damage the economic future of this country by pricing people out of travel and not competing with Europe – where they know the value of encouraging travel for work and leisure. It comes as no surprise that the bulk of our railways are now run by European operators.”
RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said:
“The scandal of Britain's great rail fares rip off continues with today's hike far outstripping average pay increases, and it will once again hit those at the sharp end of the austerity clampdown the hardest.
“After two decades of privatisation the British people pay the highest fares in Europe to travel on clapped out, understaffed and overcrowded services while the private train companies are laughing all the way to the bank. Today's fares jump just fuels that scandal.
“RMT says we should cut fares and not staff and public ownership would allow us to do just that.”
TSSA General Secretary Manuel Cortes said:
"Allowing German, French and Dutch rail firms to run our rail franchises means that UK passengers pay the highest fares in Europe while at the same time keeping fares down in those countries.
“It is the economics of the madhouse. Labour should promise a one year freeze in rail fares if it wins the General Election in May.”
Unite Assistant General Secretary Diana Holland said:
“Commuters returning to work today are facing a double whammy of rip off fare rises and falling wages.
“Since the Tory-led coalition came to power, fares have soared by 27 per cent while people have seen their incomes fall at a rate not seen since Queen Victoria was on the throne. We need to end the rail fare rip off by calling time on failing rail privatisation, and end the wage siege by boosting the minimum wage.”