Some off-peak fares on a busy rail route are to go up by 20 per cent, it was revealed today.
The increases, from September 6, are being brought in by First Great Western (FGW) and were criticised today by rail customer watchdog Passenger Focus.
Rail union TSSA accused FGW of introducing "back door" off-peak rises to offset the fact that in January 2010 train companies will almost certainly have to lower regulated fares, which include season tickets.
Passenger Focus said that from September 6, FGW will replace its off-peak ticket with a new super off-peak fare at the same price but with much tighter time restrictions.
A 20 per cent more expensive off-peak fare will be introduced to cover times excluded by the new super off-Peak rules. Off-peak single journeys and a small number of peak journeys will become cheaper but car-parking charges will go up by 25 per cent and advance tickets bought at the ticket office will go up by 11 per cent.
Passenger Focus said passengers travelling from Penzance to London, for example, can currently use the 5.41am train arriving at 11.23am at a cost of £83.
To make the same journey in September, it will cost £100 and the earliest super off-peak fare will not arrive in London until 3.23pm - some four hours later.
Passenger Focus director Ashwin Kumar said: "This adds even more complexity to an already complicated system. Passengers who have to travel at these times will find it hard to believe they are being asked to pay such increases when inflation is so low.
"The reduction in off-peak single fares at least allows passengers to mix and match different ticket types in one return journey. But passengers shouldn't have to wade through a forest of complexity to get the best deal. Families with children wanting a day out in London will be particularly hard hit as the new super off-Peak ticket doesn't allow a return from London between 3pm and 7pm.
Passenger Focus said the changes had come to light just before next week's announcement on July inflation which will determine next year's increases in regulated fares.
Under the current formula, annual rises cannot be more than 1 per cent above the retail price index (RPI) inflation level which is in minus territory at the moment.
TSSA leader Gerry Doherty said: "This is a blatant rip off by FGW who want to offset next January's fares cuts by hiking off-peak fares in September.
"Rather than pass on the January drop in fares they actually want their own customers to fund it through higher fares and increased car parking charges next month. This is a rip-off even by a company which once provokes a passengers' strike through its second-class services.
"We fear other companies will now pile on off-peak fare rises next month."