Rail commuters set for 1% fare rise despite plea for return to offices

Rail commuters face an increase in season ticket prices of around 1% in January despite people being urged to return to workplaces, economic forecasts show.

The cap on the annual rise in most regulated fares is linked to the previous July’s Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure of inflation, with the 2020 figure being announced by the Office for National Statistics next week.

Howard Archer, chief economic adviser to the EY Item Club, told the PA news agency he expects July’s RPI to be 1.0%, while the latest forecast from website Trading Economics is for it to be unchanged from June at 1.1%.

Examples of potential season ticket increases with a 1% cap include:

– Brighton to London: Increase of £50 to £5,030

– Gloucester to Birmingham: Increase of £53 to £5,385

– Barrow-in-Furness to Preston: Increase of £43 to £4,327

– Edinburgh to Glasgow: Increase of £42 to £4,242

Pressure group the Campaign for Better Transport called for the 2021 fare rise to be cancelled, claiming it is “counterproductive” to efforts to encourage passengers back to the railways following the collapse in demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Chief executive Darren Shirley said: “Millions of people around the country are starting to plan their return to work and a rail fare rise in January is the last thing they need.

“Raising rail fares when people are already staying away from the railway will further damage the economy and the environment at a time when we need to be investing in a green, sustainable transport-led recovery.

“The Government should hold fares at the current level and prioritise the introduction of flexible season tickets for the millions of people who will be working and commuting part-time in January.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last week that workers must have the confidence to return to their offices “in a Covid-secure way” to help get the economy moving.

Reports suggest that most employees are continuing to work remotely despite lockdown restrictions easing.

Department for Transport figures show that car use has nearly returned to pre-pandemic levels, but rail travel is below a third of what it was before the crisis.

Bruce Williamson, of campaign group Railfuture, claimed the decision to raise fares while fuel duty has been frozen since March 2011 shows there is a discrepancy between how the Government treats motorists and train travellers.

He told PA: “They’re sweetening the deal for motorists whilst they’re punishing the poor old rail passenger.

“We want to encourage environmentally-friendly transport, not encourage people into their cars and having congestion.

“With social distancing, people are already incentivised to get in their cars. We fear that longer term it’s going to take quite an effort to get people back into the rail habit.”

Rail fares are increased every January.

The UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments regulate rises for around half of fares, including season tickets on most commuter routes, some off-peak return tickets on long-distance journeys and tickets for travel around major cities at any time.

If the increase is capped at 1%, it will be the lowest limit in five years.

This year’s rise in regulated fares was capped at 2.8%.

Unregulated fares, including advance and peak long-distance tickets, can be increased at the discretion of train companies.