A commuter rail operator has been accused of a stealth fare rise as it plans to put up prices this weekend without announcement.
Southeastern, which serves London, Kent and East Sussex, is to increase the price of some off-peak tickets by 3.4 per cent from Sunday.
Passenger groups said Southeastern was “sneaking through” the increases. The rail operator said it did not “routinely announce fare rises”.
Train operators generally raise fares at the beginning of every year, with an average increase of 2.3 per cent coming into force across Britain on Jan 2. Southeastern raised fares by an average of 1.8 per cent at that time.
It’s bad enough that Southeastern passengers have had to put up with years of peak fare rises while wages stagnate, but more back-door fare increases are unacceptableLianna Etkind, Campaign for Better Transport
About 640,000 journeys are made on 1,900 Southeastern trains every weekday.
Lianna Etkind, public transport campaigner at the Campaign for Better Transport, said: “Sneaking through fares hikes without an official announcement is an appallingly high-handed way to treat passengers.
“It’s bad enough that Southeastern passengers have had to put up with years of peak fare rises while wages stagnate, but more back-door fare increases are unacceptable.
“We’re urging passengers to respond to the current South Eastern franchise consultation and tell the Government that enough is enough, and passengers deserve proper value for money on their journeys.”
A Southeastern spokesman said: “We understand no one likes to see fares increase but sometimes it is necessary to adjust our prices. We keep fare increases to a minimum and have frozen some fares for the past three years.”
Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, has previously described services on the network as “unacceptably poor for far too long”, adding that passengers “deserve better”.
Southeastern’s contract to operate the line runs out in December 2018. A Department for Transport consultation on a new franchise closes on May 23.
The @transportgovuk consultation on the future of South Eastern rail services closes on 23 May. Have your say: https://t.co/CmzxGEGylM
— Southeastern (@Se_Railway) May 16, 2017
The Government is considering ending first-class travel on trains on the line, as well as reducing the number of services to less popular stations.
It comes as three other rail operators announced strikes to take place immediately after the bank holiday weekend.
Southern Railway, Merseyrail and Arriva Rail North will all be affected by a 24-hour strike on Tuesday May 30.
It will be the 32nd day of action to blight Southern customers since a dispute over staffing and driver-only trains began a year ago.
Southern passengers will be hit by yet another strike
Philip Toscano /PA
Previous stoppages have also hit Merseyrail and Arriva Rail North over plans for driver-controlled operation on trains being introduced in 2020.
Talks were held on Monday between the RMT and Southern, without any breakthrough to the row over changes to the role of conductors to on-board supervisors (OBS).
The union said it had been told by the company that more than 8,200 trains a year will run without an OBS on board, which they argue is a safety issue.
But a report by the Rail Accident Investigatory Branch last year found no evidence that driver-only trains could not operate safely. Such trains have run on Britain’s rail network for more than 30 years.
Andy Bindon, the human resources director at Govia Thameslink Railway, Southern’s parent company, said: “The RMT’s proposals would mean cancelling trains and reducing service levels to our passengers. Our service levels are stabilising at the highest we’ve seen in years and we cannot agree to anything which will jeopardise running trains and the service to our passengers.”
FAQ | Southern Rail dispute