Demand for inflation-busting rail fares to be frozen

The Scottish Government is facing demands to freeze rail fares in 2021 after it was revealed that a planned price hike would see them rise by more than the rate of inflation for the first time in seven years.

Train fares could rise faster than inflation next year.
Train fares could rise faster than inflation next year.

The UK government's rail minister, Chris Heaton Harris, last week confirmed that a rise of 2.6 per cent would come into effect from March 1 next year – two months later than the usual fare rise date of January but a percentage point higher than the expected increase.

Fare rises are normally set using the retail prices index (RPI) inflation rate from the previous July – a policy already criticised as it is higher than the preferred measure of inflation, the consumer prices index (CPI), and higher than wage increases for most of the last decade. RPI was just 1.6 per cent in the summer, while CPI was one per cent.

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As a result, Scottish Labour claim that commuters travelling at peak times from Glasgow to Edinburgh five days a week would see an increase of £67 a year to £4,267, those travelling from Glasgow to Dundee would pay £92 more a year to a total of £5,872 and commuters going between Dumfries and Glasgow would pay £4,674 a year, an increase of £74. The rise would also see journeys from Tweedbank to Edinburgh increase by £35 to £2,947, Lockerbie to Edinburgh up £70 to £4,470 and Elgin to Inverness would see a hike of £49 to £3,129.

According to Labour the rise would mean fares in peak regulated fares have risen by 56 per cent since the SNP became the Scottish Government in 2007.

Scottish Labour transport spokesperson Colin Smyth said: “Rail costs have spiralled since the SNP came to power and another rip off fare hike will hit people hard at a time many families are already struggling.

“The SNP government should commit now freezing fares for the foreseeable future while the country gets back on its feet. Inflation-busting price hikes only serve to punish passengers and will do little to encourage people back onto using public transport when we begin to move out of the pandemic.”

Scotrail has also been in receipt of the Emergency Measures Agreement, a government support scheme that has been extended until January 10 while its passenger numbers remain 70 per cent down due to the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions.

Mr Smyth added: “It’s clear the UK and Scottish rail franchise system is broken. We need to bring our railways back under public ownership to ensure that these rip off rail fares end and that our railways provide better value for passengers and the taxpayer.”

However a Transport Scotland spokesperson said that Scottish fares were a fifth of the price as those across the rest of Britain. She added: “The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that rail fares are affordable for passengers and taxpayers across Scotland. We have taken action to keep fares down and ScotRail fare are still on average, 20 per cent cheaper than those across the rest of GB.

“We are currently considering the impact of the UK government announcement made this week and will confirm the approach to Scottish fares shortly.”

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