By Rupert ReadOn Jan. 2nd during rush-hour, Norwich will be part of a nationwide action urging commuters to complain to the Chancellor about government’s failure to invest in our rail network.
Why is this happening? Because, as rail passengers go back to work in the New Year they’ll be faced with a new round of fare increases. It will be the tenth consecutive year that fares have risen above the cost of living. This is a strain that it is quite wrong for our rail system to be having to put up with.
To coincide with the introduction of the new fares, an alliance of campaigners for a better public transport system will be leafleting early morning commuters at traditionally significant rail hubs across Britain including Bristol, Derby, York and London St Pancras. I will be leading the “rush hour” demonstration outside Norwich station, starting at 07.45 on Wednesday January 2nd. (Join me there, if you can!)
Back in October the coalition government capped the latest rail fare rise at 4.2 percent in order to defuse anger at the 6 percent rise it had planned to allow. That was trumpeted by the likes of Transport Minister Norman Baker as a fair deal for passengers. But it’s nothing of the sort because even with that reduction, UK train travellers will still be paying some of the highest rail fares anywhere in Europe. Yet we are still very far from achieving the kind of efficient, truly integrated public transport system which would benefit us all.
I believe that one of the essential components of that would be a re-nationalised railway system. But this government is intent on cutting the contribution from taxpayers towards a rail system which everyone can afford to use, in favour of piling more of the cost onto the passengers themselves. Passengers in Norwich – and across the country – have had enough of this! The average 4.2 percent rise is formulated as RPI inflation (retail price index) plus one percent. The government has indicated that the rise in 2014 will also be one percent above whatever RPI inflation is at that time. It is government, not the train companies themselves, which controls the rise in the average price of “regulated fares”, which includes season tickets. Unregulated fares could rise by a greater margin.
The Norwich demonstration on the morning of the 2nd is led by ‘ACT’, Active Citizens Transform, a new umbrella organisation working to intervene in the politics of the UK at points where such intervention is badly needed. Other members of the alliance against the rail fare hikes include the TSSA (Transport Salaried Staffs Association) and Together for Transport, who have warned that the spiralling cost of commuting has become such a heavy financial burden that it will cost David Cameron commuters’ votes at the next election. They say that research found that only 29 per cent of commuters are satisfied they are getting value for money from their tickets. I think that the real-world birth of ACT, this New Year, will be an important moment for the future of activism in this country. I hope you will be there with me bright and early on the 2nd, to make the point in numbers! [For further info, cut and paste http://www.togetherfortransport.org/farefail/ into your browser]