Ministers have announced an above-inflation rise in regulated rail fares from March as they seek to recoup some of the cost of running services with significantly fewer passengers.
Regulated fares, which include most commuter fares, will increase by 2.6% – a rise of 1% above July’s RPI rate of inflation and significantly higher than the official CPI measure, which was 1%.
Ministers sought to play down the increase by describing it as ‘the lowest actual increase in four years’ and suggesting that the two-month delay beyond the usual January start date would give passengers more opportunity to buy season tickets at the current price.
In reality, many passengers renew their season tickets every year just before prices rise.
The Department for Transport said the fare rises ‘reflect the need to continue investing in modernising the network, improving punctuality and reliability, and also recognises (sic) the unprecedented taxpayer support over the last 12 months’.
It added that the Government had ‘invested’ over £4bn to date to protect key services and frontline jobs and that in total it anticipates providing around £10bn to ‘protect the railway’ through its emergency agreements with rail operators.
Rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris said: ‘By setting fares sensibly, and with the lowest actual increase for four years, we’re ensuring that taxpayers are not overburdened for their unprecedented contribution, ensuring investment is focused on keeping vital services running and protecting frontline jobs.’
Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA union, said: ‘Given the massive economic fallout from the virus the last thing we need to see is a kick in the teeth for passengers such as this.
‘Ministers are well aware that millions have suffered this year with the uncertainty of employment, a changing picture on furlough provision, pay cuts, wages freezes and lost jobs. So, to reach for a hike in fares of this size is both extortionate and plain daft. And it's also a massive kick in the teeth to our NHS heroes who face a pay cut in real terms whilst having to pay more for their rail fares.’
Jacqueline Starr, CEO of the Rail Delivery Group, representing train operators, said: 'Governments must ultimately decide the balance between how much farepayers and taxpayers pay to run the railway. To keep fares down in the long term and support a green economic recovery from Covid-19 it is crucial to get people back travelling by train after the pandemic.
'While passengers will be disappointed at today’s news, we are committed to working with government to make the fares and retailing system easier to use and pushing for better value deals like flexible season tickets.'