Boost for road and rail travellers

Blackpool Citizen: George Osborne has boosted motorists by scrapping a planned fuel tax rise. George Osborne has boosted motorists by scrapping a planned fuel tax rise.

Road and rail travellers have received some pre-Christmas cheer in the Chancellor's Autumn Statement.

First, George Osborne confirmed that the 2p a litre fuel duty rise planned for next year would definitely be scrapped.

Then, he announced that the rail fare rise for train season ticketholders planned for January 2014 would average 3.1% rather than the planned 4.1%.

Both moves were welcomed by transport groups but the acclaim was cautionary, with organisations pointing out that motorists were still paying large amounts of tax and that fare rises were still outstripping pay rises for many rail commuters.

Mr Osborne had first announced at this autumn's Conservative Party conference that the 2014 fuel duty rise would be cancelled - but only if this was financially possible.

RAC Foundation director Professor Stephen Glaister welcomed the axing, but pointed out that 60% of the pump price is still taxation and about 7% of all the Chancellor's income comes from motorists"

AA public affairs head Paul Watters said: " Up to 76% of AA members have had to cut back on car use, other spending in the family budget or both. Let's now hope that the players in the oil and fuel markets don't cancel out the Chancellor's generosity."

But sustainable transport organisation Sustrans said the fuel duty decision was "a short-sighted blow to the economy".

The January 2014 fare rise for regulated rail fares, which include season tickets, was to have averaged 4.1%. But Mr Osborne said today that the rise would be limited to an average of 3.1%.

Mr Osborne announced that his decision would benefit more than 250,000 annual season ticket holders who will, on average in 2014, save £25.

For instance, an annual season ticket from Chelmsford to London should be around £35 less in 2014 than it would have been without the change in the price formula, while an annual season ticket from Oxford to London should be around £45 less.

However, as announced earlier, train companies will still be allowed to put some regulated fares up by a limit of 2% above the RPI cap (in other words by as much as 5.1%) as long as the average rise is no more than 3.1%

Manuel Cortes, leader of the TSSA rail union, welcomed the decision, adding that he now wanted to " to see an end to annual fare hikes altogether with a freeze in 2015".

Michael Roberts, director general of rail industry body the Rail Delivery Group said the decision was " good news for commuters" and would encourage more passengers to travel by rail.

But although welcoming the fares' decision, the Campaign for Better Transport, said: "T icket prices will still rise three times faster than wages and above-inflation rises are still on the cards for 2015 and beyond."

Normally, passengers would have expected to learn round about this week exactly what their season ticket rise for January was going to be.

But train companies will now re-price the 2014 fares and have promised that the new fares will be available to passengers in time for January 2 when they take effect.

Mr Osborne also said that a trial of flexible rail season ticketing will take place in south east England. This is aimed at those who work from home periodically.

In addition, the Chancellor also said that the statutory maximum price of the MOT test for a car will be frozen at £54.85 until 2015.

Also, from 2014, whiplash cheats, whose fraudulent compensation claims have driven up average motor insurance premiums, will be scrutinised by new independent medical panels.

This will ensure that only evidence from accredited professionals can be considered and will mean people can no longer profit from exaggerated or fraudulent compensation claims.

Today's rail fare announcement applies to England and brings the country into line with Scotland, where the new year rise is also 3.1%.

David Sidebottom, director of rail customer watchdog Passenger Focus, said: "This brings an end to a decade of inflation-busting fare rises and will be welcome news to passengers in England, especially those who rely on the train for work.

"It is something we have been pushing for for several years now, and we are pleased that the Government has recognised the need to act to relieve the burden on hard-pressed passengers."

Earlier this week London Mayor Boris Johnson announced that public transport fare rises in London for January 2014 would, on average, be held at the July 2013 RPI rate of inflation - 3.1%

But he added that as Travelcards covered both main line and Tube services, they would be going up by an average of 4.1% in line with the then expected national rail fare rise. Some Tube annual season tickets will be going up by as much as 4.3%

The fact that Mr Johnson's announcement came earlier this week suggests that the Mayor was not privy to Mr Osborne's plan to reduce the level of the regulated mainline fare rises.

Commenting on the Chancellor's decision, Mr Johnson said today said: " I congratulate George on holding down next year's rail fare rises for all passengers, whether commuting in Leeds or London."

Mr Johnson went on: "As in previous years we look forward to receiving the additional funding from Government that will enable us to now hold Travelcard fare rises to RPI, in line with the rest of the country."

Darren Johnson, a Green Party member of the London Assembly, said: "The mayor has failed to get a decent deal for Londoners on fares and Travelcards. He is now resorting to public negotiations via the media in a desperate attempt to try and shift blame and demonstrate that the above-inflation rise in Travelcard fares is not really his fault."

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