NEW year has brought an increase in rail fares of up to 11 per cent for commuters.
Wigan has a high proportion of commuters who already pay steep fares to travel on the railways.
It is one of the issues constituents often write to me about, expressing anger that they are forced to pay out large sums for journeys that are often overcrowded, cancelled or delayed.
This week, in a debate in the House of Commons, the Government was asked to take action. MPs called on Ministers to ban companies from putting up rail fares by more than one per cent. At a time when many people are struggling with high energy bills, childcare and job losses in the family this would help significantly.
Government action is needed because in reality commuters in Wigan have little choice. People are being forced out of their cars by rising fuel prices and high insurance premiums.
Even for those who could realistically travel to work by bus, Government subsidies to bus companies have been cut by a fifth and to local transport by nearly a third. This means that across the country one in five bus services are facing the prospect of ending.
There is also a particular impact on people with disabilities who tend to have lower incomes, and often need to travel by public transport.
Last month I raised this with Ministers to ask what action they would take to prevent people – like my constituents at Hunter Lodge – being forced off public transport altogether. So far nothing has been done. In the meantime many ticket offices at train stations are facing closure and jobs are being axed.
It is of great concern to everybody that they should be asked to pay more when the service they receive is diminishing.
When the railways were privatised critics warned it gave the green light for companies to provide poor service at high costs and make huge profits as a result.
At the moment the West Coast Main line, which runs through Wigan, is up for tender.
The Government is considering French and Dutch companies as two of the four bidders.
This means that the profits made in the UK go back into railways overseas.
We ought to be exploring options to allow the railways to be run by mutuals, not for profit companies and co-operatives.
Workers and passengers have a stake in the railways which ought to be recognised.
It is not sustainable to keep asking ordinary people to bear increasing costs to get to work.