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Rail fares in England and Wales to rise by more than expected next year

The price of train season tickets and many other rail fares in England will increase by more than inflation for the first time in eight years in 2021, with passengers facing a rise of up to 2.6% - and those in Wales face a similar jump. But the hikes have been delayed from January to March, so you've still two months to buy at 2020 prices. 

Price increases for regulated rail fares - which account for about half for fares - are usually capped in England and Wales at the previous July's Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure of inflation. That means we had expected hikes of up to 1.6% next year. But due to the coronavirus crisis, which has seen rail use plummet as many work from home, next year's headline increase will now be up to 2.6% instead - ie, July's RPI plus 1%. We don't yet know what's happening to fares in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

In addition, the Department for Transport (DfT) has written to all train operators in England to ask them to begin immediate work on developing flexible season tickets, allowing people who travel two or three days a week to save money compared with buying daily tickets. Firms have been told these must be introduced across England by the end of next year. See our Cheap Train Tickets and Cheap Season Tickets guides for help finding hidden fares and cutting costs. 

How are rail fares in England and Wales changing next year?

There are two types of rail fare - here's how they're set to change:

  • Regulated fares are due to rise by up to 2.6% on 1 March 2021. This includes season, anytime day, off-peak and super off-peak tickets. A review next year will decide whether rail fares will rise again by RPI + 1% in 2022.

    Regulated fare rises are usually an 'up to' increase - ie, a few tickets may rise by less than the maximum and this will be the case again in 2021. As regulated fares won't rise until March, season ticket holders therefore have until 28 February 2021 to renew at 2020 prices. 

  • Unregulated fares are also expected to rise by up to 2.6% from 1 March 2021 - but it's not confirmed. These include first-class, advance, anytime and off-peak day tickets. 

    Neither the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) on behalf of the industry or the devolved governments have officially announced what's happening with unregulated fares, but industry sources expect the rise to be up to 2.6%, also from 1 March 2021. 

What about fares in Scotland and Northern Ireland?

Rail fares are a devolved matter. Here's what's happening in the rest of the UK:

  • Scotland - regulated fares usually rise by different amounts. In Scotland, regulated peak fares usually increase by July RPI (which would mean a 1.6% rise in 2021) while regulated off-peak fares usually rise by July RPI - 1% (which would mean a 0.6% rise). The Scottish Government is yet to confirm if this will change next year though. The situation for unregulated rail fares is also yet to be confirmed by the government or the RDG. 

  • Northern Ireland - rail fare increases aren't usually linked to RPI. Instead they are determined by Translink, the company which runs public transport in Northern Ireland. 

What do the Government and rail firms say?

Although the 2021 rise in England and Wales is larger than expected, the Department for Transport has said it will be the lowest rise since 2017. In 2020 regulated fares rose by 2.8%.

Rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris says: "By setting fares sensibly, and with the lowest actual increase for four years, we are ensuring that taxpayers are not overburdened for their unprecedented contribution, ensuring investment is focused on keeping vital services running and protecting frontline jobs."

Jacqueline Starr, chief executive of the RDG, adds that while passengers "will be disappointed" about the fares rise the “Government must ultimately decide the balance between how much fare payers and taxpayers pay to run the railway".

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