Commuter rail fares to rise by up to 4.9% from March 3 next year

Liverpool Street station: train fares will rise by 4.9 per cent next March (PA)
Liverpool Street station: train fares will rise by 4.9 per cent next March (PA)

Commuter rail fares in England will increase by up to 4.9 per cent from March 3 next year, the Department for Transport said on Friday.

This is well below a feared rise of about nine per cent - and is also likely to mean that Tube and bus fares will only rise by a similar amount.

But Louise Haigh, Labour's shadow transport secretary, said the increase was "brutal" at a time many passengers were facing record cancellations and delays.

London TravelWatch, the capital's travel watchdog, said the increase was "unwelcome" and warned passengers would not be getting value for money.

A TravelWatch spokesman said: "These new rail fares will see already hard-pressed passengers hit with another unwelcome price hike.

"Reform to rail fares and ticketing could not be more urgent now. Government needs to set out an alternative vision that makes public transport appealing - this includes affordable fares, rolling out contactless payment options, and improving train service punctuality so passengers are getting real value-for-money."

It had been unclear which figure the Department for Transport would use to calculate the new fares.

Normally it uses the RPI figure from the previous July. But last year, with inflation soaring, ministers switched to a figure that was linked how much wages were rising.

For the 2024 increase, the Government has again chosen to cap the scale of the rise - meaning it better reflects the current rate of inflation, which has fallen to 3.9 per cent.

The hike applies to regulated fares - namely, those regulated by the Government, such as commuter fares and season tickets - and not the fares that train companies can set by themselves, which include first class tickets and advance tickets.

About 45 per cent of all tickets tend to have regulated fares, according to research by the House of Commons library.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: "Having met our target of halving inflation across the economy, this is a significant intervention by the Government to cap the increase in rail fares below last year's rise.

"Changed working patterns after the pandemic mean that our railways are still losing money and require significant subsidies, so this rise strikes a balance to keep our railways running, while not overburdening passengers.

"We remain committed to supporting the rail sector reform outdated working practices to help put it on a sustainable financial footing."

The Department for Transport said that fares would now be reviewed each March going forward, having abandoned the traditional January rise during the pandemic.

Mayor Sadiq Khan, who sets Tube and bus fares and for other Transport for London services such as the Elizabeth line and London Overground, is due to announce his increase in the New Year.

TfL has been working on the "planning assumption" of fares rising by at least four per cent.

But it has to closely mirror the Government's rail increase because of the Travelcard agreement it has with the train firms.

Deputy mayor Seb Dance indicated this week that Mr Khan was likely to try to keep bus fares as low as possible, to help lower income Londoners as much as possible.

Last year bus fares rose by 10p to £1.75 as part of an overall increase in TfL fares of 5.9 per cent.

TfL is also considering the feasibility of introducing Taylor Swift-style "dynamic pricing" as a way of encouraging commuters back to the Tube, though that is unlikely to be implemented in the short term.

The Department for Transport said that rail travel had yet to return to pre-pandemic levels, though weekend passenger numbers often exceed 2019 figures.

As a result, rail revenues were at 78 per cent of pre-pandemic levels between July and September 2023.

The DfT said that over the past year (2022/23) the taxpayer had provided £12 billion in support for the railways - more than £420 per household.

Earlier this month the Standard revealed that the Elizabeth line had seen the biggest rise in cancellations of all UK train firms, though remained the second most punctual railway in the country.