Published: 06:00, 02 January 2020
| Updated: 21:00, 02 January 2020
Campaigners have hit out at price hikes affecting rail passengers in Kent, saying some of the county's services are "slower than steam trains".
Many annual tickets have gone up by more than £200 - despite commuters using high speed trains already paying among the highest fares in Europe.
The annual increases, which come into force today, affect many season tickets, some off-peak return tickets on long-distance journeys, and travel around major cities.
Transport campaigner James Willis argues rail fares should be going down to encourage drivers off the road given the number of councils in the county declaring a climate emergency.
He said: "It's really not fair, across Kent people's incomes are not going up by the same percentage as the rail season tickets and the unregulated fares - the singles you buy every day.
"A particular example is made the Maidstone East to London service... some parts of that service are slower than steam trains.
"Why should people be paying more for that?
Mr Willis, who commutes part-time into London, also questioned why prices are going up when Thameslink services - connecting Maidstone East, West Malling and Borough Green to Blackfriars and St Pancras - which were supposed to open in December 2018, are still not in place.
A Southeastern spokesman said: "We understand that no one likes to see prices go up, especially our season ticket holders.
"We keep fare increases to a minimum and have frozen unregulated advance fares at January 2019 prices – these can now be purchased at ticket offices, making our cheapest fares more widely available.
"The government regulates annual fare increases, primarily Season tickets, to meet the costs of running and upkeep of Britain's railways.
"Ninety-eight pence in every pound from train fares goes back into the rail industry for running, maintaining and improving the network.
"For unregulated fares – including off-peak travel – we offer discounted ticket prices, special offers and promotional fares."
Tom Moran, Thameslink’s Managing Director, said: “GTR has delivered a massive boost in rail capacity with space for 50,000 more peak-time commuters to and from the capital every day, introduced more than 1,500 new air-conditioned train carriages and reduced the average age of its fleet from 20.4 years to 12.5 years.
"There has been a net increase of 646 carriages across the GTR network. We are fully committed to bringing in a full, all-day service for passengers in Maidstone East.
“Working together as an industry, Govia Thameslink Railway and Network Rail, in close collaboration with Southeastern and the Department for Transport, are investing in new technologies and extra infrastructure to enable the introduction of these services as quickly as possible without impacting reliability for the thousands of passengers who depend on our services every day.”
But the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) earlier accused the government of "playing into the hands of the private rail companies" and "showing complete contempt for passengers at a time when it should be encouraging as many people as possible to use the rail network".
Tonbridge and Malling MP Tom Tugendhat previously appealed for the price increase not to be passed on to commuters using the Maidstone East Line until the introduction of Thameslink services between Maidstone East and Cambridge, via London Bridge.
Season ticket prices are regulated by the government, with annual changes based on the July Retail Prices Index (RPI) inflation measure.
At the start of 2019, season ticket prices rose by 3.2%.
KMTV report on the price rise