Return of peak ScotRail fares slammed as 'short-sighted, irresponsible folly'

Bringing back eye-watering peak rail fares in June is “an act of short-sighted, irresponsible folly”, trade unions have warned.

Commuters have benefited from a pilot scheme, launched in October, which scrapped peak fares on ScotRail services and will run until June 28.

But peak-time tickets - roughly double the cost of normal fares - are set to return after this date, hammering commuters in the wallet.

Trade unions and campaigners warned it would amount to a rail costs double whammy "tax on workers" - after regular fares were already hiked by an inflation-busting 8.7 per cent by nationalised ScotRail in April, the biggest jump in the UK.

If the rise was applied to restored peak fares, based on previous costs, it would mean a peak-time return from Glasgow to Edinburgh rocketing to an estimated £31.40 - up from £16.20 currently.

Train drivers’ union Aslef, the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) and the Scottish Greens have all urged ministers to permanently scrap peak fares on ScotRail trains.

But ahead of a final decision on whether to make the move permanent, transport chiefs have made clear peak fares will shoot up again from July, hitting Scots in the pocket during the summer holidays.

In a statement, Transport Scotland claimed extending the pilot by three months to the end of June had helped “to ease the transition to the increased fares”.

Asked about rail fares yesterday, new First Minister John Swinney conceded the peak fares removal scheme had been “effective” but warned “everything has to be paid for”.

Speaking to the Record, Kevin Lindsay, Scottish organiser for Aslef, hit out: "These weak and tepid remarks from the First Minister and worrying comments from Transport Scotland are not giving much hope to Scotland's rail travellers and those of us who want to grow Scotland's railways and help shift people from road to rail by making fares more affordable.

“Restoring peak fares at the same time as a near 9 per cent rise in fares would be an act of short-sighted, irresponsible folly that would be an insult to all those people who currently use our trains and who are overcharged for the privilege.

“Surely just at the time the Scottish Government has backtracked on its net zero targets they should be doing all they can to make our trains more affordable and reduce CO2 emissions from road travel, which their own policy is committed to.

“If they restore peak fares it would send exactly the wrong message at the wrong time, and would confirm that the current Government is not serious about meeting its climate targets. “

STUC deputy general secretary Dave Moxham said: “Charitably speaking, it would be incompatible, at best, for the Scottish Government to reintroduce peak fares whilst shamelessly trying to champion their tarnished net-zero credentials and missed climate change targets.

“With prices already having been hiked by 9 per cent, reintroducing peak fares will only serve to embed the Scottish Government’s haphazard approach to sustainable transport and will further act as a tax on workers seeking to commute during ‘peak’ hours.

“With inflation outstripping wage growth during the cost-of-living crisis, it would be deeply wrong of government ministers to think hitting workers in the pocket as they travel to their work is a sensible policy approach.

“We need to see leadership and decisive action from the Scottish Government on this. The First Minister admits himself that the pilot has been effective. It’s time this was made permanent and the STUC completely supports calls for peak fares to be scrapped for good.”

The Scottish Greens are also urging the new SNP minority government to keep the scheme - originally brought in when the two parties were in coalition together at Holyrood.

MSP Mark Ruskell branded peak fares an “unfair tax” on workers, saying: “The removal of peak rail fares, and the shift to off-peak fares all day, has already supported hundreds of thousands of commuters through the cost of living crisis and encouraged people to get out of cars.

“By making the scheme permanent we can ensure that even more people are able to feel its benefits and change their long-standing habits.”

He added: “There is no way for us to tackle the climate crisis without drastically reducing the numbers of cars on our roads.

“One of the best ways to do this is to ensure that public transport and greener travel are affordable and attractive choices for travellers.”

Speaking to journalists in Edinburgh, new FM Swinney said: "I have to be mindful of the fact that everything has to be paid for. The peak rail fares pilot has been a very, very good measure.

"It's been very effective. We obviously have to look at the resources involved in supporting that on a permanent basis."

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “We recognise that any additional cost to travel is unwelcome especially during the current cost of living crisis.

“The ScotRail Peak Fares Removal Pilot has been extended for a further three months until June 28.

“This should help to ease the transition to the increased fares and provide further data to inform the final evaluation on the success of the pilot.”

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