Rail passengers hit with largest fares rise in nine years

ScotRail accepts passengers will be 'disappointed' but says it makes no profit.

Rail passengers hit with largest fares rise in nine years iStock

ScotRail has admitted “some customers will understandably be disappointed” after it was announced that train passengers will be hit with the largest fares rise in nearly a decade.

The UK Department for Transport announced on Friday that ticket price increases in England will be capped at 3.8% from March 1. That is in line with July’s Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure of inflation.

In Scotland, the increase will be implemented on January 24.

It will be the steepest increase since January 2013, according to figures from industry body the Rail Delivery Group (RDG).

This year’s rise in fares in England and Wales was based on the previous July’s RPI plus one percentage point.

The Scottish Government imposed smaller rises for some journeys.

A 3.8% rise next year would lead to hikes in the cost of annual season tickets including on the Edinburgh to Glasgow service (any route), which would see an increase of £162 from £4268 to £4430.

A ScotRail spokesperson said: “While some customers will understandably be disappointed by this announcement, the revenue generated from fares is essential to allowing ScotRail to run a service, help the economic recovery, and reduce the burden on the taxpayer. 

“There is no profit being made by the business, and only with significant support from the Scottish Government can services continue to operate. 

“Coronavirus has changed our railway fundamentally. We are working hard on plans to develop new ticket types, better technology, and different services to meet customer demand and attract as many people back to the railway as possible in the coming months.  

“It’s crucial we attract people to choose the train as the low-carbon alternative in the coming months and years.” 

ScotRail’s managing director said last month it needs to get “bums back on seats” after the train operator’s revenue fell by more than £100m a year amid the Covid pandemic.

Alex Hynes said Covid had “changed consumer behaviour”, adding: “When consumer behaviour changes so much we have to change with it.”

The firm is considering timetable cuts after more than 100 staff members were forced to self-isolate this week under Covid rules.

Price increases are normally implemented on the first working day of every year, but have been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Scottish Labour criticised the decision to hike fares as “reckless” at a time of high inflation.

The party’s transport spokesperson Neil Bibby said: “Scotland’s passengers will be forced to cough up extra months before the rest of the UK because of the SNP’s decision to plough ahead with this in January. 

“Slapping passengers with the biggest hike in a decade months before ScotRail is taken into public hands is an utterly shameful start. If the SNP are happy to let fares spiral and routes be decimated, then their takeover will mean little more than a fresh coat of paint.”

Meanwhile, rail union the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association accused the UK Government of being “hell-bent on discouraging rail travel”, claiming the fares increase will “put yet more people off and price many out of rail travel completely”.

But Andy Bagnall, director-general of the RDG, welcomed the decision not to continue the 2021 policy of raising fares by RPI plus one percentage point.

He said: “It is important that fares are set at a level that will encourage more people to travel by train in the future, helping to support a clean and fair recovery from the pandemic.”

He added the rail industry knows it “must not take more than its fair share from the taxpayer”, which is why it is working to create a “financially sustainable and more passenger-focused service”.

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