Passengers face largest rail fare hike in over a decade with fares set to rise by nearly 6% in March

'With more strikes planned in the New Year rail travel is unlikely to get much more reliable as it gets more expensive' - ITV News' Ben Chapman reports

Millions of train passengers face the largest hike in rail fares in more than a decade, with fares in England set to rise by nearly 6% from March 5.

The Department for Transport (DfT) has set a cap of 5.9% for increases to fares regulated by the government, such as season tickets on most commuter journeys, some off-peak return tickets on long distance journeys and flexible tickets for travel around major cities.

It said this is 6.4 percentage points lower than the inflation figure fare rises are historically based on.

Train operators set unregulated fares, although their decisions are heavily influenced by the government due to contracts introduced because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Since the railways were privatised in the mid-1990s, regulated fare rises have not been more than one percentage point above or below the Retail Price Index (RPI) measure of inflation.

The RPI figure for the previous July is normally used, which this year was 12.3%. The DfT said "for this year only" it has aligned the increase with July’s average earnings growth.

Examples of annual season ticket rises based on a 5.9% hike include:

– Woking to London: Up £216 from £3,664 to £3,880.

– Liverpool to Manchester (any route): Up £169 from £2,864 to £3,033.

– Gloucester to Birmingham: Up £274 from £4,636 to £4,910.

'Welcome' step - but is it value for money?

David Sidebottom, director at watchdog Transport Focus, said that the need for "reform" in ticketing must not be forgotten, despite the "welcome" move to cap fares.

"No-one likes prices going up," he said.

Train services have come under fire from passengers. Credit: PA

"In our latest research, less than half of passengers think the railway currently performs well on delivering value for money tickets.

"After months of unreliable services and strike disruption, it’s clear that too many passengers are not getting a value for money service.

"Capping fares below inflation and the delay until March is welcome and will go some way to easing the pain, but the need for reform of fares and ticketing in the longer-term must not be forgotten."

Why is the government increasing fares?

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: "This is the biggest-ever government intervention in rail fares.

"I’m capping the rise well below inflation to help reduce the impact on passengers.

"It has been a difficult year and the impact of inflation is being felt across the UK economy. We do not want to add to the problem.

"This is a fair balance between the passengers who use our trains and the taxpayers who help pay for them."

The rail fare increase has been criticised by Labour. Credit: PA

Annual increases in fares used to be implemented on the first working day of each year, but have been delayed since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

'Savage fare hike'

Labour and the Liberal Democrats, however, criticised the increase.

Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh said: "This savage fare hike will be a sick joke for millions reliant on crumbling services. "People up and down this country are paying the price for 12 years of Tory failure."

Liberal Democrat Transport spokesperson Wera Hobhouse added: "This is a kick in the teeth for commuters who are putting up with endless strikes, chaos and disruption.

"Season tickets will jump by hundreds of pounds and families will be left to fork out even more for train journeys in the middle of a cost of living crisis. The Government should be freezing fares to help struggling households.

"People are paying more for less on our rail network. You are lucky nowadays if the trains are actually running, let alone on time. The Conservative Government hiking fares like this is absolutely shocking."

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