Britain's rail commuters have been hit again by another price hike this year. They now pay nearly three times more of their wages than their continental counterparts on fares.
The Trades Union Congress warned that ticket costs — up an average 2.5 this year — were now so high that they were having a major economic effect.
Ticket prices have risen by 27 per cent since the Tories came to power in 2010 according to figures from the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT).
Those commuting to London from Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire, for example, will have to contend with a 2.43% rise, with their 2015 ticket going up to £4,888.
According to CBT, the cost of a Milton Keynes season ticket has risen 23.5%, or £930, since January 2010 and is one of a number of fares that have increased around four times more than average wages over this five-year period.
The CBT also highlighted the cost of a Newcastle to Middlesbrough season ticket, which will be £2,324 from Friday and has risen 26.3% since January 2010.
Other examples of large increases on season tickets since January 2010 given by CBT are Ashford International to London (up 22.0%), Oxford-London (up 22.0%), St Albans-London (up 22.0%), Leeds-Sheffield (up 23.5%), Leicester-Derby (up 22.5%) and Bristol-Bath (up 22.4%).
CBT said average wages had risen by just 6.9% since January 2010.
CBT's public transport campaigner Martin Abrams said: "Yet again, the Government is hiking up commuter rail fares. Ticket prices are rising much faster than wages, which means getting to work takes up an increasing share of incomes, hitting both household budgets and the economy."
Pat Harrington, general secretary of Solidarity Union commented: "This will hit discretionary income and make life even harder for families. The Tories talk sometimes about tax cuts (mainly for their rich friends) but any tinkering they do is more than counter balanced by the costs of energy, housing and travel for most ordinary folk."
Campaigners calculate that the costs of dividend payments, debt write-offs and other costs of privatisation total £1 billion a year — enough to fund an 18 per cent price cut.
“Rail fares are now consuming a huge proportion of people’s wages, leaving precious little for other bread-and-butter expenses,” said TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady.
“We’ve ended up with slower trains and higher fares than countries who have kept their trains in public hands.”
A study comparing tickets in Britain to similar journeys on state-owned networks on the continent showed how far privatised rail lags behind.
The 50-mile run from London to Brighton on privately operated trains costs £390.60 a month — 17 per cent of average earnings.
But in Italy and Spain a comparable monthly fare costs £118.78 and £98.19 respectively — just 6 per cent of the median wage.
All three major rail unions condemned the price hikes and placed the blame firmly at the door of the privateers. Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan said high prices were damaging the “economic future of this country.”
The RMT's Mick Cash said private train companies were “laughing all the way to the bank":
" we are blowing away the myth that the extra cash is invested back into services when in fact it combines with taxpayer subsidies to fuel a £4 billion privatised rail rip-off that is a one-way ticket to the bank for the train companies."
He continued: "The scandal of the British people paying the highest fares in Europe to travel on clapped-out and overcrowded trains will be compounded by the new year average rise - an increase which dwarfs average pay increases and which will hit the poorest the hardest."
Mr Cash said the RMT would step up the fight for the renationalisation of the railways.
And TSSA leader Manuel Cortes branded the current situation the “economics of the madhouse” as continental state-run firms profited from British privatisation to subsidise their own ticket prices.