Rail fares set to rise by 2.8% in 2020

2020 may be the last year for an across-the-board rise, as a fares system that is full of anomalies is due for reform

Simon Calder
Travel correspondent
Wednesday 14 August 2019 10:41
Train ticket prices to rise by up to £1 per mile in 2020

Regulated train fares are set to rise by 2.8 per cent next year, in line with the July rate of Retail Prices Index (RPI) inflation.

Commuters from the new transport secretary’s constituency will pay an extra £84 a year to get to work in London from the start of 2020.

Grant Shapps is MP for Welwyn Hatfield. From January next year, the price of an annual season ticket from Welwyn Garden City to London will rise from £3,016 to £3,100.

The increase is calculated from the July 2019 RPI, which has just been revealed to be 2.8 per cent. The figure is used to set “regulated” rail fares – including season tickets in southeast England.

Many off-peak return tickets on long-distance journeys, as well as peak-time fares around major cities, are also regulated and therefore capped at the July RPI figure.

A Cardiff-London off-peak return, currently £81.30, increases by £2.30. Between Bristol and Newcastle, a £162.95 return will rise to £167.70 – nearly £5 more.

The RPI figure is typically followed for unregulated ticket price rises such as Anytime inter-city fares – though not Advance tickets, which are set by train operators in response to demand.

The Anytime one-way fare on Virgin Trains between London and Manchester, covering rush-hour journeys, is likely to rise by £5 to £180.

Also on the West Coast Main Line, the Anytime fare from Watford Junction to Rugby – a distance of 65 miles – is set to increase to £65.30, taking the price-per-mile above £1 per mile.

Unlike the position a year ago, pay is rising faster than the cost of rail tickets.

The Office for National Statistics estimates the annual growth in average weekly earnings for employees in Britain as 3.7 per cent, though it points out: “Despite recent growth, earnings in real terms are lower than before the 2008 to 2009 recession.”

In Scotland, while regulated ScotRail peak fares increases are capped at RPI, regulated off-peak fares rise at one per cent below inflation.

The new fares will take effect on 3 January 2020. The Department for Transport (DfT) says it will be the seventh year running that the government has capped fares in line with inflation. During the previous decade, train tickets increased above RPI.

Chris Heaton-Harris, the rail minister, said: “We want to create a railway system that’s fit for the 21st century and provides a reliable, punctual journey.

“It’s tempting to say fares should never rise, but the truth is that if we stop investing in our railways then we’ll never see it improved.”

The DfT is undertaking a “root and branch review of the rail industry”, under the chairmanship of former British Airways boss, Keith Williams.

The Rail Review, which is expected to be published by the end of the year, is likely to recommend sweeping reforms of a fares system that is full of anomalies.

There have been repeated calls for the fare increases across Britain to be linked to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which tends to be significantly lower than RPI.

Darren Shirley, chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, said: “Last year, passengers were told by the [then] transport secretary that fare rises pegged to RPI were difficult to justify and should be a thing of the past, but there is still no end in sight to these exorbitant increases that will cost commuters dearly from January.

“The government should commit now to January’s fares rise being linked to CPI and a comprehensive package of reforms to rail fares should follow after the Rail Review completes.”

Depending on the DfT’s response to the review, 2020 may be the last year in which an across-the-board fares increase is applied.

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