The following column appeared in this week's Barnsley Independent:
Did you know that earlier this month the Government forced Northern Rail to introduce evening peak ticket restrictions on local rail services, pushing some fares up in Barnsley by as much as 26 per cent?
This now means that some passengers who previously used off-peak tickets face sharp increases in their fares. Since Monday 8 September, off-peak tickets are no longer valid on some train services which depart between 4.01pm and 6.29pm on weekdays.
For example, a person travelling from Elsecar to Barnsley under the new peak restrictions will now have to pay £4.40, an increase of 70p or 19 per cent. To travel from Elsecar to Sheffield will now cost £6.00, an increase of £1.20 or 25 per cent. To travel from Wombwell to Meadowhall under the new peak restrictions will cost now cost £5.90, the equivalent of a 26 per cent increase.
In the past, the government has given a certain amount of money as a subsidy to rail companies to cover the cost of running their particular section of the rail network, but when this latest franchise deal was done, the amount of money provided by central government was reduced. As a result, Northern Rail has hiked up fares to make up the shortfall and now commuters in Barnsley are paying the price.
This hidden tax on travel is another kick in the teeth for hard working people, students and anyone already struggling with this Government’s burden of low pay and cost of living crisis. Yet again it demonstrates how out of touch David Cameron’s Government is with the realities of life for ordinary folk in Barnsley. As winter approaches they will have no choice but to stump up the extra cash, face waiting until after dark to travel or be forced not to travel.
Rail passengers in our area deserve better. That’s why Labour would help tackle the cost-of-living crisis by enforcing a strict cap on fare rises. We will also reform our railways so that they work for passengers, not profit. We will review the Government’s failed franchise system and legislate to allow a public sector operator to take on lines and to challenge the train operators on a level playing field, securing better value for money.
Our plan is ease the pressure on passengers by passing on the savings from our reforms by capping annual fare rises on every route, simplifying fare structures and introducing a new legal right to the cheapest ticket.
It used to be said “let the train take the strain”. Now it now seems that with these latest stealth fare increases, it’s the passenger who once again has to take the pain. And it’s just not fair.