Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire commuters give rail fare rise verdict – ‘unreliable and unjustified’

PUBLISHED: 17:02 08 January 2020

Stevenage, Hitchin and Letchworth commuters have hit back after the 2020 rail fare rise. Picture: Chris Rout/Alamy

Stevenage, Hitchin and Letchworth commuters have hit back after the 2020 rail fare rise. Picture: Chris Rout/Alamy

© Chris Rout / Alamy

Commuters from Hitchin, Letchworth, Stevenage and beyond have been responding to the latest rise in rail fares, with many slamming their respective franchises for “unreliable” services and “unjustified” prices.

The Govia Thameslink franchise, which runs the Great Northern service, has regularly come under fire from commuters. Picture: Govia ThameslinkThe Govia Thameslink franchise, which runs the Great Northern service, has regularly come under fire from commuters. Picture: Govia Thameslink

Earlier this month we reported on the latest rail fare increase for 2020, in which commuters in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire were hit by a 2.7 per cent rise in their rail fares.

On average, our commuters are being asked to fork out £100 more for annual season tickets as a result.

Helen Robertson, a freelancer, has commuted into the capital from Arlesey for the last three years.

Her destination in London often changes, but she estimates that both her and her husband's monthly travel costs exceed £1,000 - a higher figure than their mortage.

From the floor of a packed train carriage, she writes in an email: "Charging as much as they do for a service that is unreliable and uncomfortable a lot of the time just isn't good enough."

The current situation has pushed Helen and her husband to decide to move to Scotland this year, as the cost of commuting to Edinburgh or Glasgow from a similar distance is significantly cheaper.

The cheapest annual season ticket from Stevenage to London terminals costs £3,964, rising to £5,392 if London Travelcard zones 1-6 are included in the ticket. In 2019, those tickets would have cost £3,856 and £5,246 respectively. Picture Harry HubbardThe cheapest annual season ticket from Stevenage to London terminals costs £3,964, rising to £5,392 if London Travelcard zones 1-6 are included in the ticket. In 2019, those tickets would have cost £3,856 and £5,246 respectively. Picture Harry Hubbard

If you bought an annual season ticket from Letchworth to London terminals starting today, the cheapest option comes in at £4,468, rising to £5,832 if you choose the London Travelcard zones 1-6 option.

Letchworth Rail Users Group released a statement alongside its Royston counterpart in response to the increase. They said: "Once again, the Department for Transport, which set the rail fares, has failed to adequately or fairly respond to this issue and continue to treat passengers with contempt.

"A fare freeze would obviously have been appropriate given the unprecedented disruption of recent years. Instead, weary passengers are facing another completely unjustified fare increase.

"The department need to get a handle on this issue before it prices an entire demographic out of rail travel all together."

While his department has come under fire, transport secretary and Hertfordshire MP Grant Shapps confirmed plans to trial a system of 'flexible' tickets on Govia Thameslink services, offering discounts to part-time workers travelling only certain days a week.

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Paul Plummer - chief executive of rail fare regulator Rail Delivery Group - said: "We understand that no one wants to pay more to travel, which is why companies held the average fare increase below inflation."

According to the website trainline.com, the cheapest 12-month season ticket from Stevenage to London terminals costs £3,964, rising to £5,392 if London Travelcard zones 1-6 are included in the ticket. In 2019, those tickets would have cost £3,856 and £5,246 respectively.

Ric Euteneuer, a 55-year-old from Stevenage, works as a local government officer in London Bridge.

For the past 20 years, he has spent every weekday morning travelling into London, and he says he has seen rail fares soar to "inflation-bursting amounts" in that time.

He added: "We need to ask ourselves four questions. Has the service got quicker? No. Has the service got better or more frequent? No. Has reliability increased? No. Has late running decreased? No.

"Train operators make returns, and pay themselves dividends, despite contributing little in the way of money themselves. This money is lost on the railways and have no doubt instead gone to pay for a CEO's kids to go to Eton."

On the same day that rail fares increased, MP for Hitchin and Harpenden Bim Afolami, an alumni of Eton himself, tweeted: "Glad to see the government taking firm action against train franchises who aren't delivering the service required.

"Look forward to discussing the same action regarding Govia Thameslink."

A spokesperson for the Stevenage Rail Users Group said: "The legacy of serious service failings has caused both health and financial difficulties for many commuters. That fares have continuously increased year on year are not justified by the standard of services provided.

"There is great concern that we are not seeing any improvement in the number of peak services for a town as large as Stevenage.

"We are unsure why towns north of Stevenage are prioritised, our passengers have standing-only options, and an annual fare increase to add to the insult!"

Members of the Hitchin Rail Users Group were also dismayed at the increase, as the cheapest annual season ticket from Hitchin to London terminals rose to £4,180 and £5,532 if a 1-6 zone London Travelcard was added.

Commenting online, one commuter said: "It's nothing short of extortion. Earn £6k to pay your fare to get to work! Why people voted for this is beyond me."


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