Train hikes unfair on struggling residents Labour leader says

A hike in rail fares has been called “a real blow” to commuters by a council leader.

Sharon Taylor, leader of Stevenage Borough Council and Labour candidate for the town at the next general election said the 5.9 per cent increase by First Capital Connect which came into effect on Monday is putting extra pressure on hard-pressed residents.

The increase means an annual Travelcard to London (zones 1 to 6) from Stevenage now costs �4,360 up from �4,116 last year, a rise of �244.

Cllr Taylor joined protestors against the hikes at Stevenage train station last week to hear their concerns.

She said: “The Tory-led government has hit Stevenage commuters hard. They are reversing the decision Labour took when in government to force train companies to apply price controls.

“This is a real blow to Stevenage’s many commuters, who already pay over the odds for their tickets compared to commuters on other train lines. It shows just how out of touch this government is with the needs of those who rely on train travel to get to work.

“People in the town are already feeling the squeeze from the cuts to services, extra VAT, fuel price increases and a flat-lining economy. The last thing they need is a massive hike in the price they pay to get to work. It’s simply not fair.”

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Conservative MP for the town, Stephen McPartland, who is also a member of the Stevenage and Knebworth Rail User Group, said the government is focussed on fixing the “broken” rail industry.

“I share the pain of passengers facing price rises, as I do not have a second home in London, but commute from my home in Stevenage each day. I am lucky enough to walk to the station, as the council’s rip-off car parking charges rake in hundreds of thousands of pounds profit for them each year.

“I know the railway industry is broken and costs 30 per cent more to run in this country than it does in Europe. The government has launched the McNulty report to identify and remove these inefficiencies, but it will take time. Even the national Labour Party recognises this and has admitted the rail system they left behind is not fit for purpose.

“I, like many other passengers, do not feel we get value for money, but we have started to see improvements with thousands of more seats available and I will continue to work hard to promote Stevenage as a great place to live and work. We are already benefiting from the �250 million investment I have secured from the government for our local schools, hospital, housing and jobs and we will see even more successes, so let us go for it this year and be proud of our town.”

Further up the line from the capital the price hike is hitting Hitchin and Letchworth commuters even harder, with the annual cost of an annual 1 to 6 Travelcard now �4, 460 from Hitchin, �4,664 from Arlesey and �4,700 from Letchworth.

Philip Ross of the Letchworth Rail User Group said the latest rise means the cost of a yearly ticket to London from the town’s station has gone up over �1,000 in five years.

“That is out of taxed income which means that people need to earn about �7000 just to get to work. It is the squeezed middle that is paying as ever. As ticket prices have been rising over recent years these higher percentages have an even greater impact and it is incredible that this of all years the government has uncapped the fare rises and allowed higher rises than ever.

“The railways seem to be the only business that can put up its prices before providing improvements. Letchworth has benefited from new longer platforms and FCC has improved our service over recent years such that we can now get a seat and I think they are genuinely working hard to improve the service, but that doesn’t mean it is value for money.”