The transport watchdog has called for ‘a fairer deal’ for rail passengers after rising inflation is set to trigger a 3.6% increase in fares in England and Wales from January.
North of the border, the Scottish Government said it was capping some fair rises below inflation.
The Office of National Statistics announced that RPI inflation in July was 3.6%, up from 3.5% in June. The cost of regulated rail fares is capped at this figure for 2018.
However the CPI inflation measure, which the Government prefers for other purposes, was 2.6% in July, unchanged from last month, further increasing controversy over the Government’s choice of the RPI to set fares.
David Sidebottom, director of transport user watchdog Transport Focus, said: ‘Yet again, passengers, now majority funders of the railway, face fare rises next January. While performance remains patchy and with pay and wages not keeping pace with inflation, they will feel rightly aggrieved if they are paying much higher rises next January.'
He added: ‘Why is the Government not using its preferred measure of inflation: the one that is used to determine wages and pension increases, and one which is often lower than RPI? Why not use the Consumer Prices Index for rail fares too? Passengers deserve a fairer deal.’
Andy McDonald MP, Labour’s shadow transport secretary, said: ‘Commuters have repeatedly been told that higher fares are necessary to fund investment, but promised investment has been cancelled and essential works have been delayed for years.’
Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which represents train companies, said: 'Money from fares pays to run and improve the railway, making journeys better, boosting the economy, creating skilled jobs and supporting communities across Britain, and politicians set increases to season tickets.’
He added that many major rail industry costs rise directly in line with RPI. A spokesperson for the RDG told Transport Network that this includes fixed and variable track access charges and payments to or subsidies from Government.
In Scotland the maximum permitted annual increase for selected regulated peak fares, including Anytime and season tickets, is pegged to RPI, while regulated Off-Peak fares are restricted to 1% below RPI.
Scottish transport minister Humza Yousaf said: ‘The Scottish Government has restricted annual increases in fare costs to ensure Scotland has the lowest price increases in the UK. At the same time we have introduced a number of initiatives to support passengers including offering a free week’s travel - equal to the cost of a rail fare freeze - which has been taken up by 90% of season ticket holders.’