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.
Pressure group the Campaign for Better Transport called for the 2021 fare rise to be cancelled, claiming it is “counterproductive” to efforts to encourage passengers back to the railways following the collapse in demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Chief executive Darren Shirley said: “Millions of people around the country are starting to plan their return to work and a rail fare rise in January is the last thing they need.
“Raising rail fares when people are already staying away from the railway will further damage the economy and the environment at a time when we need to be investing in a green, sustainable transport-led recovery.
“The Government should hold fares at the current level and prioritise the introduction of flexible season tickets for the millions of people who will be working and commuting part-time in January.”
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.
RMT senior assistant general secretary Mick Lynch said: “After well over a decade of eye-watering fare increases and with an industry in crisis, tinkering with fares is simply not good enough.
“Instead we argue that stopping the unjustified profiteering of the train companies would pay for an annual 5% cut in fares as part of a long-term national strategy for our railway.”
Rail fares are usually increased every January, although there is speculation that 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, rather than “season tickets designed for city gents in the last century”.
He went on: “Our research tells us almost two in three former rail commuters expect to work from home more so we will probably now travel less for work, both commuting and on business.
“The Government must go above and beyond a fares freeze and get train companies to offer a combination of cut-price deals, carnet-style ‘bundles’, flexible season tickets for commuters and better-value-for-money fares across the board.”
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 said, giving “cancelled trains” as the reason.
“I think it’s already very expensive, and it shouldn’t be for profit.”