Government must act to regulate rail fare rises

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Some of the people protesting about higher rail fares chose humour to make their point yesterday, dressing up in top hats and carrying placards featuring prime minister David Cameron as the Fat Controller from Thomas the Tank Engine - ‘fat profits for me, higher fares for you’.

But for commuters effectively held to ransom by the latest price rise on the railways, this is no laughing matter. As many people from this area who travel on Southern and South West Trains returned to work following the festive break, they found the region’s two largest train companies had put up fares by an average of almost six per cent.

Every year passengers are squeezed for more cash – and they’ve had enough. Having to stump up yet again for higher fares is galling, but what must really stick in the craw is that the money doesn’t seem to be used to improve the service for which they pay so dearly.

Instead it ends up in Treasury coffers or the pockets of train company shareholders.

But, as rail campaigner David Habershon says today, the problem is that rail commuters are not by nature a vociferous bunch. They’re too busy to get involved in protesting.

It was instructive that those dressed up and protesting most vocally yesterday were from a rail union.

Members of the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) politely handed out leaflets inviting commuters to contact the Treasury to tell Chancellor George Osborne what they thought of the fare increases.

Will the government listen? It certainly ought to. Commuters are being used as a cash cow and many have no choice, so reluctantly accept whatever price they are required to pay.

But we believe the government has a responsibility to regulate rail fare rises, not stand by as train companies charge whatever they think they can get away with.

When Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt meets transport secretary Justine Greening to discuss the issue next week, we expect a response - and a commitment to end this rail rip-off.