A HAPPY New year to all South Wales Argus readers, and I hope everyone enjoyed a restful break at Christmas. Last Tuesday was the day that most people returned to work, only to be met by the annual increases in rail fares and Severn Bridge tolls.

Rail fares have increased on average by 27 per cent since 2010, and for those who travel from Newport that means paying around £524 more for an annual commute to Bristol Temple Meads. For those commuting or doing business over the Severn Bridges, the tolls have increased by an average of more than 22 per cent since 2010, and this year they are up to £6.70 for a car, £13.40 for a van and £20 for lorries and coaches.

I know from my advice surgeries and post bag what a burden this is for those travelling to work, especially when wage increases are lagging behind, and when rail services to Bristol and Cardiff are often overcrowded. And for those using the bridges, they feel rightfully aggrieved at the high level of tolls they have to pay when there is clearly a huge difference between what is collected in tolls, and the maintenance and operating costs of the bridges.

This year the government will have to flesh out its plans for the future operation of the bridges, when the Severn River Crossings concession ends and they return to public ownership. There is not long to go now, with the current estimate of when the concession ends (based on traffic flows) being October 2017 - February 2018. That’s why it’s absolutely crucial that the government get on with the public consultation which should have been published in the autumn. I’ll keep pushing ministers on this as time is short and it’s important that all bridge users and staff are given a chance to have their say, and inform decisions on the future operation of the bridges, including tolling.

On rail fares I’ll keep working with local groups for better services including supporting the call for a new station for Magor, and support Labour’s plans to invest in our railways, bring them back into public ownership, put passengers first, and keep fares down.