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Sussex MP blames overcrowded Brighton to London trains on low fares
Cheap rail fares are to blame for overcrowded trains on the Brighton to London mainline, according to a transport minister.
Lewes MP Norman Baker claimed thousands of people were taking advantage of reduced fares on off-peak services which resulted in them being packed.
He made the comments in a parliamentary debate just weeks after commuters were presented with another above-inflation rise in fares.
This leaves some looking at finding about £5,000 to travel from Sussex to the capital daily in peak times, despite dozens unable to get a seat.
Speaking to The Argus after the debate, Mr Baker admitted that some fares were excessive but stood by the comments, adding rail use across the country was at its highest since 1928.
Mr Baker, who was speaking in the House of Commons in response to questions from MPs across the country, said: “I do not pretend that some fares are not excessive; some of them definitely discourage people from travelling by train.
Norman Baker MP for Lewes and transport ministerIn fact, we have a selection of fares. There is an issue about peak fares – that is part of the fares and ticketing review – but many off-peak fares are very cheap indeed
"That is part of the reason why we are having the fares and ticketing review.
“Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas referred to trains being overcrowded, but to be fair and put the matter in context, she needs to recognise that one of the reasons why the trains from Brighton are overcrowded – I know them very well – is that Southern has introduced a large number of cheap fares, which local people are taking advantage of.
“There are now people standing off-peak all the way from Lewes or Brighton to London because fares have been reduced to an attractive level.
“In fact, we have a selection of fares. There is an issue about peak fares – that is part of the fares and ticketing review – but many off-peak fares are very cheap indeed.”
Approached by The Argus, Mr Baker said: “I don’t know why my comments should be seen as controversial because they are true. Off-peak services from Worthing and Lewes to London are extremely busy.
“I accept that there is more overcrowding from Lewes than Brighton but that’s because at Brighton there are longer trains and more frequent services as there are two train firms competing for customers.”
He added: “I use the train all the time. I use it nearly every day of my life. I don’t have a ministerial car, I have a ministerial bike so I bike, walk or use the train everywhere I go.
“The only car I use is getting around my constituency.”
But Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas said: “Norman Baker appears to be deliberately missing the point here.
“The example that I gave in the Commons debate on rail fares yesterday (was about a constituent who has been forced to give up his job in London because he can no longer afford the peak time trains he needs in order to get there every day. As a result, he is now out of work.
“That is hardly a sign that our rail system is working effectively. As far as I can see, travelling cheaply at peak times is not an option.”
A spokesman for Southern said: “Southern prides itself on offering some great value fares on our off-peak services.
“Fares from Brighton to London are on sale from as little as £5 and we believe that we are offering what our passengers want.”
How much does it cost?
Brighton and Hove sees more than nine million journeys out of the city each year, having risen every year since 1994.
But despite more passengers, the cost of commuting has rocketed. Back in 2004, an annual season ticket from Brighton to London (zones 1 to 6) would cost you about £2,450.
This year passengers had to stump up about £4,640 for the same journey.
Those travelling at peak times have seen the worst increases, with prices up 43% between 2004 and 2011 – with further rises this year.
It means UK travellers face fares up to ten times the price of those on the continent. Research by the Campaign for Better Transport showed a 22-mile journey in 2011 from Velletri to Rome cost Italian season ticket holders just £336.17.
Southern Rail’s website yesterday (September 6) was advertising off-peak tickets booked in advance from Brighton to London today for £12.50.
The transport group behind the Southern rail franchise suffered a profits fall as the double-dip recession hit demand for one of its key commuter lines.
Go-Ahead said operating profits at its rail arm fell 17% to £40 million in the year to June 30.
Its Southern franchise, which connects Brighton and much of Sussex with London, saw revenues at the end of the period 2% weaker than it forecast when it bid for the franchise in 2009.
The Newcastle-based firm, which also runs Southeastern and London Midland, raised the possibility that Southern could receive revenue support from the Government in a year's time, with the economy expected to continue to weigh on its performance.
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