Train passengers are braced for a major rail fares rise next year after RPI inflation soared to 3.8% – the highest for more than three years.
Today’s official figure, up from 1.4% at the beginning of this year, spells more bad news for hard-pressed commuters just as rail chiefs try to encourage people back onto the network.
While the government has not announced how far fares will rise next year, they usually rise in January based on the Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure of inflation for the previous July.
This RPI figure is controversial because it is higher than the more commonly-used Consumer Prices Index. Today’s figures show CPI inflation at 2.1% when housing costs are included – down from 2.4% last month.
This year ticket prices in England and Wales rose by an average of around 2.6% in March – representing RPI for July 2020 plus one percentage point.
If a similar approach was used next year, regulated fares could rise by 4.8%.
The Scottish Government this year imposed smaller rises of 1.6% and 0.6% for peak and off-peak travel respectively.
A spokesman for the UK Government’s Department for Transport said: “No decision has been made on national rail fares. The Government is considering a variety of options and we will announce our decision in due course.”
Pressure group Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) believes fares should be frozen to encourage passengers to return, and cut carbon emissions from transport.
It also wants reforms to the fares system to be prioritised in the ongoing overhaul of Britain’s railways.
CBT chief executive Paul Tuohy said: “In the face of a climate emergency, the Government should be doing everything it can to encourage people to choose low-carbon public transport by making it the cheapest option, not hiking rail fares.
“If the Government can freeze fuel duty for 10 years, it can freeze rail fares next year to help encourage more people to use the trains and get commuters back spending in our towns and cities.”
Robert Nisbet, director of nations and regions at industry body the Rail Delivery Group, said: “Now, more than ever, it is Government that controls changes to rail fares and it has yet to decide what will happen next year.
“While Government rightly decides the balance between how much farepayers and taxpayers contribute to running the railway, any decision should be viewed against the decade-long freeze in fuel duty and Government proposals to cut air passenger duty for domestic flights.
“Getting people out of cars and planes is essential to meet net-zero targets.
“While rail accounts for 10% of journeys, it is responsible for just 1% of transport emissions.
“To make trains a more attractive choice, operators want to work with Government to reform fares and make it easier for people to get a good deal.”