BOLTON’S poorest train users will suffer as a result of “appalling” train fare changes, passenger groups have warned.
The Bolton News can exclusively reveal that, as of September 8, off-peak tickets will be banned between 4pm and 6.30pm on weekdays, forcing struggling passengers to cough up extra cash or wait around for hours.
A cheap evening ticket — brought in to help revive town-centre nightlife — will also be scrapped as part of a move transport campaigners have called “shocking” while student leaders claim people will skip class in a desperate bid to save money.
The controversial overhaul means a passenger currently paying £3.90 for an off-peak Manchester-to-Bolton return will now be forced to pay £6.30 to travel in the new evening peak period.
And passengers will no longer be able to buy the £1.95 cheap evening ticket, currently valid between 6.30pm and 9pm.
Already hit by huge tuition fees, a student travelling on that route daily over an eight-month academic year would have to fork out £384 extra when the changes kick in.
Duo tickets, which offer ‘buy one, get another half price’, will not be valid at peak times and neither will some other discounted tickets.
Northern Rail, which is introducing the changes across Greater Manchester and onto Buxton, Alderley Edge, Warrington and Burscough Bridge, claim the Government asked it to make the changes to save taxpayers’ money.
But critics say the rural nature of Northern’s network, which stretches from Derbyshire to Northumberland and beyond, means its trains will always lose money and the Government should not punish people for that.
Andrew Macfarlane, secretary of Greater Manchester Transport Campaign, which lobbies on behalf of passengers, said: “These changes are appalling.
“It will hit some of the poorest train passengers and will have a massive effect on lots of passengers, who will either have to wait around until 6.30pm or pay money they haven’t got.
“The Government lumped together all the least profitable parts of the network under one franchise and then expressed surprise that it doesn’t make money. What were they expecting?
“It shows that those in Whitehall do not understand the north of England.”
Bolton Students’ Union president Arthur Kaddu said: “This is truly shocking.
“This will affect many University of Bolton students who travel here for classes.
“Many of them work evening shifts or have fixed childcare arrangements. Some will just not come to lectures to avoid paying the charges.
“It is a wrong decision and will hit students heavily in the pocket.”
Bolton Council’s transport representative, Cllr David Chadwick, said: “The upside is that it may ease congestion on trains during the evening rush hour.
“But it is going to affect people and I am not happy with a situation where people have to pay more for the service.”
The Bolton News understands that Northern has spent the last few weeks working with Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) to consider alternative cost-cutting options, including starting charging for train station car parks — an idea they rejected.
A TfGM spokesman did not comment on the fact that it helped Northern in its decision-making, and added it would work with Northern to ensure the changes are implemented as effectively as possible.
Northern’s commercial director Richard Allan said: “The majority of customers who travel at peak times, such as those with season tickets, will be unaffected by these changes but we want to make sure that those who are know about what is happening.
“We have consulted extensively with local stakeholders and with Passenger Focus on the detail of this change, which is part of our new franchise agreement that was announced in March.”
A Department of Transport spokesman said: “These changes will help us achieve our long-term economic plan of building a rail network that provides the best possible value for money for the taxpayer.
“They may also help reduce crowding on evening services, as well as contributing towards future service improvements for the benefit of all passengers.
“Such restrictions are relatively common on other parts of the network, including in the Merseytravel area, and we expect only a minority of passengers to be affected.”
A First TransPennine Express (FTPE) spokesperson said it was Northern, as the lead route operator, that was responsible for deciding ticket policy but FTPE was obliged to enforce it.
He added: “The introduction of evening peak restrictions will not affect season tickets and FTPE advance purchase ticket holders and will not affect 80 per cent of our customers.”