A wave of protests has been planned on Tuesday to mark the biggest increase in rail fares in five years.
Fares will rise by an average of 3.4%, with season tickets going up by 3.6% – increases that outstrip average pay rises last year by 50%, unions say. Protests by unions are planned at more than 40 railway stations in response to the increases.
The industry and government have defended the fare rises as essential for investing in the modernisation of the railways.
The RMT union said commuters on average earnings would spend between 10% and 20% of their take-home pay on train travel. Fares have increased by 24.5% since the public sector pay freeze started in 2011, a period in which the pay of 5 million workers including NHS staff and teachers has gone up by just over 5%.
The RMT general secretary, Mick Cash, said: “While workers are struggling, the private train companies are raking it in. As we enter the 25th anniversary of railway privatisation legislation, the need for public ownership of rail has never been more popular or necessary.”
Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef, the train drivers’ union, said: “After years of austerity, when workers have not achieved pay increases at or around inflation, it is absolutely unfair that the industry they subsidise creates transport poverty and hurts the communities and industries that they should be supporting.”
Campaigners contrasted the treatment of rail passengers with efforts to cut costs for car drivers. Stephen Joseph, chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, said: “The government has protected motorists from increases in costs by freezing fuel duty, but at the same time they have allowed rail fares to go up, now with their highest rise for five years.
“Although there are more motorists, rail commuters are often concentrated in marginal constituencies so the government could end paying for this through the ballot box.”