This morning's announcement that the retail prices index rose to 3.2 per cent in July, up from 2.4 per cent in June, means commuters will see a 6.2 per cent rise in their train fares in January. Fares rises are currently calculated using RPI + 3 per cent. Analysts had predicted RPI would be 2.8 per cent, which means tickets will be even more expensive than originally expected. Don't forget rail fares already saw an average 8 per cent rise at the start of this year. Some tickets will rise by a further five percentage points if other fares on a network are kept lower as a balance.
Before he was reshuffled from the transport brief, Philip Hammond described trains as a 'rich man's toy'. Seizing on that quote, the Campaign for Better Transport is holding a 'train toffs' protest against fare rises at Waterloo station this morning. Although changing the formula from RPI + 1 per cent to RPI + 3 per cent is supposed to take the burden from the taxpayer in general and move more of it to those who actually benefit from the rail network, these rises are making transport more and more unaffordable. There is an issue here about mobility of labour, particularly around London. Those who might not be able to afford to live close to their work are increasingly finding their wages squeezed by the rising price of the tickets that take them into the city. And those who need to travel to job interviews will see increasing pressure on their pockets before they even secure a wage packet. Rail fares are now rising three times more than wages.
Theresa Villiers insisted on Daybreak and BBC News that the government does 'appreciate and understand people's concerns about fares' and that it was striving to bring the cost of the railways down in order to address those concerns. But Tory strategists know that the cost of living is one of the biggest issues driving voters away from the party: today's announcement will do little to stem that flow.