Northern Fares Fury

Northern Trains’ announcement to end off-peak tickets for evening peak hour travel has provoked much anger in the north of England.

The ban comes into effect on 8 September 2014 and will apply to all weekday Northern trains in West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire and Greater Manchester between 1601 and 1829, and similar restrictions will be introduced between Newcastle and Hexham in Tyne and Wear between 1601 and 1759. Northern already imposes evening peak hour restrictions in Merseyside.

“The changes are being made after the Department for Transport asked Northern to look at several options to help reduce subsidy as part of its new franchise,” a Northern spokesman explains. (The new franchise was granted in March 2013 and runs from April 2014 to February 2016).

“The change to off-peak tickets is the only option that has been taken forward and it will be used to reduce the cost of the railway to taxpayers by reducing the subsidy to Northern. Passengers currently using off-peak tickets during the evening peak will either have to travel earlier or later, or buy an anytime ticket.”

The move coincides with the ongoing DfT Northern/TransPennine Express consultation for the new franchise (as reported in LTT 13 June) which runs till 18 August 2014.

The peak time ban has proved controversial and has been widely criticised by passenger groups.

Passenger Focus thinks fares could increase by 100% on some routes: “We have urged Northern Rail to concentrate on collecting fares owed to them before putting up prices,” says passenger team director David Sidebottom. “Our research shows that passengers are confused about fare structures and rules, and that fares go uncollected either because there are no ticket facilities at the station, or because passengers cannot find a guard to sell them a ticket.”

Campaign for Better Transport director James MacColl says evening peak-time fares would be counterproductive and unfair: “Given the crowded and decrepit state of some of the trains, the focus from government and Northern Rail should be on investment and attracting more passengers, not hitting existing train users with fare hikes.”

MPs have condemned the decision: Julie Hilling, the member for Bolton West, and chair of the All Party Parliamentary Rail group in the North has added her opposition: “We are really disturbed about some of the suggestions that are currently being consulted on. The big rise in fares seems to be typical of the nature of the negative proposals being put forward and it fills me with great concern. Raising fares at a time when my constituents and passengers across the north west are experiencing a cost of living crisis is unacceptable.”

The rail union RMT was also weighed in with the following statement: “The axing of off-peak fares is a kick in the teeth for the travelling public and is a taste of what’s to come under the new Northern and Trans-Pennine Express franchises which are currently out to public consultation. The government’s future plans for Northern and TPE is to axe jobs, remove guards from trains, jack up fares while capacity to meet surging rail demand is left to stagnate. The attack on the fare-paying public has already begun.”

654/Aug 14

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