Rail chiefs today ruled out an investigation into fare hikes of up to 20 per cent on some off-peak tickets.
The rises, brought in by South West Trains and Arriva Trains Wales, were ‘not excessive’ and it was ‘not appropriate to open an investigation’, the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) said.
Customer group Passenger Focus and transport union TSSA had been among those who had complained to the ORR that the price rises amounted to an infringement of competition law.
The ORR said it understood fare rises were ‘unwelcome to the travelling public’ but added that just because a ticket price was raised significantly did not mean it was ‘excessive’
Passenger Focus Chief Executive Anthony Smith said: ‘What this ruling seems to imply is that off-peak passengers are left totally unprotected against unreasonable fare rises.
‘Unless you are using tickets that are protected by fares regulation, such as savers or season tickets, or happen to have a service provided by a competing train company, it seems that competition law will not protect you.’
Mr Smith went on: ‘We think substantial numbers of off peak passengers will have no choice but to pay the new fares. The assertion by the ORR that people have a choice simply does not ring true. We will challenge this ruling in an attempt to give off-peak passengers some protection against massive price rises.’
The Rail Maritime and Transport union expressed its dismay at the decision, describing it as ‘breathtaking’ and called for government action to stop operators pricing people off rail and on to roads.
General Secretary Bob Crow said: ‘Talk about the climate challenge and the importance of reducing carbon emissions will remain just talk if the government allows never-ending fares hikes that can only result in ever more polluting road traffic.
‘A fundamental shift in policy is needed that will use fares policy to encourage people out of cars and on to trains, and alongside that we need to recognise the need for substantial public investment in new rail capacity.
‘Britain’s rail fares are already among the most expensive in Europe, and as long as the operators are allowed to continue hiking them the government will be unable to meet its commitment to reduce carbon emissions.’
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