Rail user groups demand answers from government over fare freeze

A Great Northern train

A Great Northern train - Credit: Archant

Rail user groups representing commuters from across Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and South Cambridgeshire have demanded answers from the government over the rail fare freeze they are pushing for, saying that the points they raised to ministers were “lacking acknowledgement”.

The RUGs have been exchanging letters with the Minister of State for the Department for Transport, Jo Johnson.

The exchange with Mr Johnson has come about after rail user groups representing people from Arlesey, Ashwell & Morden, Baldock, Biggleswade, Hitchin, Letchworth, Meldreth, Shepreth & Foxton, Royston, Stevenage, and further afield, wrote to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling and other ministers in the wake of the proposed rail fare increase of up to 3.2 per cent in January 2019, which was announced in August.

That letter said: “Against the backdrop of such poor performance, any increase in rail fares is absolutely unacceptable.

“To hear that once again, come January, the passengers which use our stations will be asked to pay an increased fare for a barely fit for purpose service is a poorly-timed kick in the teeth.”

This was soon followed by a similar letter to the DfT, dated August 29 and signed by the MP for South Cambridgeshire Heidi Allen, Hitchin and Harpenden MP Bim Afolami, Sir Oliver Heald – who represents North East Hertfordshire – Stephen McPartland, MP for Stevenage, and Jonathan Djanogly, who represents Huntingdon.

All five MPs backed the RUGs in their bid for a fare freeze, with their letter stating: “We ask that you also give urgent consideration to a ‘fare freeze’ for the long-suffering passengers of the Great Northern franchise who have endured a dreadful summer of cancellations, delays and overcrowded services.

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“Passengers should not be expected to routinely pay more for less.

“It is our view that the annual fare increase must be not introduced until our passengers have experience three months of a reliable, sustained service that meets the levels expected due to the May timetable change.”

Minister Mr Johnson’s reply, dated October 9, begins by discussing the poor performance of Govia and says that he is “determined to find a resolution to the timetabling issues that have affected passengers on Govia, as well as in the north of England, and to hold Network Rail and operators to account so that these issues cannot be repeated”.

He goes on to discuss compensation schemes and says: “These schemes mean, for example, that a commuter from St Albans buying monthly season tickets will have received around £350 in compensation direct, rather than saving around £120 on the cost of their season ticket, which would be the result of a fare freeze instead.

“While this compensation package is being funded and paid for by the rail industry, a fares freeze would push costs on to taxpayers.I think it’s unfair to ask people who do not use trains to further subsidise those who do.”

The Knebworth and Welwyn Garden City RUGs and the Potters Bar & St Albans Transport Users Group joined up with the other RUGs – all of which represent a combined 18,942,722 annual passenger journeys – to respond to Mr Johnson’s letter on Monday – and said his response lacks an acknowledgement of points they have made.

The letter says: “The industry compensation scheme offers only one month’s compensation for disruption that continued for a much longer period.

“The period of maximum disruption was at least 10 weeks.

“If the industry compensation scheme is not to be extended to adequately compensate passengers for the suffering they endured, ticket prices should be frozen instead.

“It is unacceptable to ask passengers to pay more for what is, to this day and will remain for some time, a worse service.

“Please confirm that either you will press for the industry compensation scheme to be extended or fares to be frozen. If you will do neither, please explain why you consider it is fair that passengers should not be properly compensated for the distress and financial loss suffered.

“The human toll of the failure to deliver the May timetable continues to this day, in delayed and cancelled trains, lost jobs, lost output, missed family time, stress and poor mental health.”

The representatives ended the letter with thanks to local MPs for their support, and asked them to continue to do so.

Govia announced on Tuesday that Thameslink and Great Northern will introduce an additional 32 peak and 170 off-peak services from Monday, December 10.

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