From The Independent, Monday 19th May 2008
A new pricing system for Britain's rail network has been criticised by unions and passenger groups, who accused train operators of introducing fare increases "by the back door".
The new system, partially introduced yesterday, was supposed to make buying tickets easier by reducing the number of reservation types available to just three. But passenger groups warned that a number of train companies had already used the changes to scrap some of their cheapest fares by cutting the number of off-peak services and said more may follow suit when wider changes take effect later this year.
Critics fear the overhaul, which has seen the price of many journeys rise, may result in fewer people using trains despite the Government's pledge to encourage environmentally friendly methods of transport.
Gerry Doherty, leader of the TSSA rail union, said: "Whilst we welcome any simplification of the ticket system we didn't want rail companies to use these changes as an excuse to reduce off-peak travel or bring in more expensive tickets. What we've been given are a number of fare increases by stealth. It is old people, students and families that will be hit hardest by any reductions in off-peak travel, as well, which seems particularly unfair."
Restrictions to some off-peak journeys, introduced yesterday by Virgin Trains, National Express and Cross Country, mean that an early morning train from Holyhead to London on Virgin is now be three times more expensive than it was last week because passengers who were formerly able to buy saver tickets now have to purchase more expensive standard and open return tickets.
Passengers who use National Express trains to commute between Essex and London will have to buy a full-price return ticket if they want to leave London between 4.30pm and 6.30pm, instead of a one-day travelcard, an increase of 63 per cent.