The cost of travelling by train will once again rise for many on Monday, as passengers in England and Wales are hit by an above inflation fare rise.
Ticket prices will increase by around 2.6%, leading to accusations that the UK government is “pricing the railways out of existence”.
Bruce Williamson, of pressure group Railfuture, described the increase as “the usual annual punishment for rail passengers, just slightly delayed”.
He claimed the UK government “should be encouraging the public to start using trains again” when lockdown restrictions ease.
“But instead they’re gradually pricing the railways out of existence,” he said. “It just doesn’t make sense to kick the rail industry when it’s down.”
How big is the fare rise?
Fares will go up by around 2.6% in England and Wales, PA Media reports.
Scotland is introducing a 1.6% increase in the cost of peak travel, with off-peak journeys up 0.6%.
Examples of the potential fare hikes include a Brighton-London annual season ticket going up by £129 to £5,109 and a Manchester-Glasgow off-peak return rising by £2.30 to £90.60.
Exact prices will be released on Monday.
What normally determines the figure?
In the past seven years, rises in England’s regulated fares such as season tickets have been linked to the previous July’s Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure of inflation, which in 2020 was 1.6%.
The UK government is using RPI +1%.
Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris says the government wants to make sure taxpayers are “not overburdened”, as they are already covering franchises’ losses to keep services running despite the collapse in demand caused by the coronavirus crisis.
The UK, Scottish and Welsh governments took over rail franchise agreements from train operators in March 2020, following the collapse in demand for travel caused by the virus.
This is expected to cost the Westminster government alone around £10 billion by mid-2021.
Fare rises in England have mirrored RPI since January 2014, but the Department for Transport (DfT) axed the policy due to the “unprecedented taxpayer support” handed to the rail industry during the coronavirus pandemic.
What about unregulated fares?
Whereas rises in regulated fares are set by the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments, operators are free to determine unregulated fares including Advance tickets.
But unregulated fare rises this year closely to match regulated fares due to the government taking on operators’ financial liabilities.
What else is different to normal?
Fares usually become more expensive on the first working day of every year.
The upheaval caused by the virus crisis meant a delay in the 2021 rise until Monday.
How much more expensive has train travel become in recent years?
Office of Rail and Road figures show that between January 2004 and January 2020, average fares increased in real terms by 15%.
Where does the money go?
The Rail Delivery Group says 98p of every £1 spent on train fares goes towards running and maintaining services.
Is there any way of avoiding the fare rise?
Savvy commuters can renew their season tickets in the days before the annual increase.
Any other tips on limiting the cost of train travel?
Passengers can save money by getting a railcard, travelling off-peak and booking in advance – although these options are not available for many journeys, particularly those made by commuters.