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Rail fares frozen – but not for all
From the Financial Times of Sun, 07 Sep 2014 23:04:04 GMT

George Osborne has announced that commuter rail fares will be frozen in real terms for another year, but some “unregulated” fares – including those in his own Tatton constituency – are set to rise by more than 50 per cent.

The chancellor said that regulated fares, including season tickets and “anytime” singles, would rise by a maximum of 2.5 per cent in January, claiming that it would save the typical season ticket holder £75.

Mr Osborne said he had discussed the freeze with Boris Johnson, the London mayor, over the weekend, and that it would help ease the burden on working families ahead of the next election.

The second year of frozen fares is expected to cost about £100m, but is seen by Mr Osborne as symbolic of his desire to take on Labour at the next election on “cost of living” issues.

However, passengers will have to pay 50 per cent more for some journeys in the constituencies of Mr Osborne and Nick Clegg, deputy prime minister, under a shake-up of fares at Northern Rail.

The move, prompted by the government’s attempt to cut taxpayers’ subsidy for the franchise, could prove controversial – only months before the general election.

Mary Creagh, shadow transport secretary, said some fares would rise by as much as 162 per cent under the “huge stealth fare hikes”.

“People shouldn’t have to choose between paying more or waiting until after dark to travel,” she said.

Northern Rail runs trains across the north of England, serving a population of almost 15m people. It is introducing restrictions on evening peak tickets, meaning that off-peak tickets will no longer be valid on trains between 4.01pm and 6.29pm on weekdays.

This means that a journey between Manchester and Styal in Tatton, the seat of Mr Osborne, will go up from £5.20 to £7.90 – a 52 per cent increase. Likewise, a journey between Dore and Totley in Sheffield Hallam, Mr Clegg’s seat, will rise by 43 per cent.

These increases are in addition to the usual annual increase in fares, which come into force every January and are based on a formula linked to retail price inflation.

David Sidebottom, of the commuter lobby group Passenger Focus, said: “Investment is needed to improve services for passengers across the north of England. However, disproportionate fare increases for some passengers before there is any visible benefit from that investment seems premature as the affordable ‘turn up and go’ railway is eroded.”

The transport department defended the changes at Northern Rail, saying they were “relatively common” on other parts of the network. “We expect only a minority of passengers to be affected,” it said.

Northern Rail pointed out that travellers with season tickets would not be hit by the changes.

“The majority of customers who travel at peak times will be unaffected by these changes, but we want to make sure that those who are know about what is happening and what options are available to them,” said Richard Allan, commercial director.

The changes, part of a new franchise extension agreed in March, were made as a result of the government’s demand to reduce subsidy, the company said.

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