Rail commuters face 1.6% rise in fares

Rail commuters face an increase in season ticket prices of 1.6% despite people being urged to return to workplaces.

The cap on the annual rise in most regulated fares is linked to the previous July's Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure of inflation, which was announced by the Office for National Statistics on Wednesday.

Rail fares are usually increased every January, although it is understood ministers are considering delaying the 2021 rise due to low passenger numbers.

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.

Rail regulator the Office of Rail and Road said regulated fares went up by an average of 2.7% in January 2020, following the July 2019 RPI figure of 2.8%.

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

Examples of potential season ticket prices next year after a 1.6% rise include:

– Brighton to London: Increase of £80 to £5,060

– Barrow-in-Furness to Preston: Increase of £69 to £4,353

– Edinburgh to Glasgow: Increase of £67 to £4,267

Passenger watchdog Transport Focus called for a major shake-up of rail fares to encourage passengers back to the railways following the collapse in demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Chief executive Anthony Smith said a system that fits "the way we live and travel now" is needed, including flexible season tickets, carnet-style tickets and "better value for money fares across the board".

Average rise in regulated rail fares
(PA Graphics)

Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris said: "We expect any rail fare rise to be the lowest in four years come January and any increase will go straight to ensuring crucial investment in our railways.

"Taxpayers have been very generous in their support to keep trains running throughout the coronavirus pandemic and whilst it's only fair that passengers also contribute to maintaining and improving the services they use, a lower rise will help ensure the system returns to strength."

Industry body the Rail Delivery Group said it is working with the Government to offer flexible season tickets and wants regulations to be updated "so that we can build an easier-to-use, better-value fares system".

Raine Peake, 51, who travelled through London Waterloo station on Wednesday morning, cancelled her £200-a-month ticket from Walton-on-Thames in Surrey to the capital due to working from home more often because of the virus.

"The service is absolutely appalling," she told the PA news agency, giving "cancelled trains" as the reason.

"I think it's already very expensive, and it shouldn't be for profit."

Rail fares: how your pound breaks down
(PA Graphics)

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

All revenue and cost risks from train companies were transferred to the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments in March to avoid franchises collapsing.

This has already cost taxpayers at least £3.5 billion.

The initial Emergency Measures Agreements (EMAs) offered by the UK Government last for six months, but taxpayer-funded support is expected to continue.

Trade unions claim EMAs mean Britain's railways are now in public ownership, but that is disputed by the industry.