SCOTLAND's transport minister has said a rail fares hike of 3.8% from January is "regrettable but necessary".

Graeme Dey was pressed by Labour's Neil Bibby in Holyrood on Tuesday why ticket prices were increasing given the climate and "cost of living" crises.

Bibby also asked Dey why in Scotland the fares were rising next month, while in England a rise would not take place until March.

The minister told MSPs: "As I made clear this is a regrettable situation but a necessary one that we find ourselves in. Just to outline for the chamber. Applying no increase or an increase below RPI (Retail Price Index) was considered.

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"But with a cost between £6.5 million and £9.1m, those options could not be taken forward, especially as such a decision would have had a cumulative impact recurring annually in future years. We have to assure that rail fares are affordable for the taxpayer as well as passengers. 

"We need to have a rail service that is financially sustainable. And whilst the government covers the cost of the majority of rail passenger services, fares do have to contribute overall funding and I recognise the point about encouraging people back onto the rail as part of tackling the climate emergency." 

The fare rises will be the largest increases in nearly a decade.

The price increases have already been criticised by trade unions amid soaring inflation rates.

Last week the Scottish Government said it had put in £450m of emergency funding to the rail franchises since the pandemic started and this level of funding was “not sustainable in the longer term”.

The amount of the rail fare increases is determined by the level of the Retail Price Index (RPI) in July – but while in previous years the cost of off-peak tickets has gone up by a lower amount, this time the increase is across the board.

The announcement means the price of a season ticket between Glasgow and Edinburgh will go up by £162 to £4430.

The National:

It will be the steepest increase since January 2013, according to figures from industry body the Rail Delivery Group.

The price increases will come into force two months before Scotland’s train services are to go into public operation.

Dutch firm Abellio will stop running the ScotRail franchise at the end of March next year.

After this, an “arms-length” Scottish Government company will take over the running of services.

After seeing passenger numbers haemorrhage during the pandemic, ScotRail put out its “Fit for the Future” document setting out proposals for public transport.
It included plans to cut 300 rail services per day from its timetable in line with new travel patterns and overcapacity on some routes.

Kevin Lindsay, Scotland organiser for train driver union Aslef, said last week: “Just at the time when we should be getting Scotland back on track, the Scottish Government has confirmed it will increase rail fares.

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“Scotland cannot meet its environmental obligations without a world-class rail service that shifts people and goods from cars and lorries onto trains.

“If the Scottish Government are serious about tackling the climate crisis and supporting our economy they will halt these planned fare hikes in their tracks and end peak fares which only act as a stealth tax on working people.”

The Department for Transport announced ticket price increases in England will also be capped at 3.8% from March 1.

The Welsh Government has said it is “considering the options available to us”.