SCOTRAIL passengers face higher average fares hikes next month than some cross-Border operators, but Scottish ministers have pledged to hold down increases for the following two years.
The train firm confirmed today its tickets would go up by an average of 3.9 per cent in January, as The Scotsman revealed last week.
The rise is the same as the average increase among train operators across Britain, but East Coast’s fares will go up by an average of 2.6 per cent and Virgin’s by 3.6 per cent.
However, watchdogs warned passengers that such average figures cloaked higher rises on some routes.
Transport minister Keith Brown announced that further ScotRail increases in 2014 and 2015 would be pegged.
He told MSPs that peak fares would be increased by the retail price index measure of inflation (RPI) - which is currently 3.2 per cent.
Mr Brown also pledged that off-peak fares would be frozen - so long as RPI stays below 3.5 per cent.
Otherwise they would be increased by how ever much RPI had risen above 3.5 per cent.
The minister said: “I want to ensure the rail service is an attractive, affordable option.
“I am pleased to advise that I have successful negotiated an early fares cap with First ScotRail.
“I can confirm that peak fares will be capped in January 2014 and 2015 to RPI, delivering benefits two years earlier at no additional cost to the franchise subsidy.
“I also want to encourage greater rail use in the off-peak. I want attractive fares that will encourage commuters, where they can, to switch to off-peak services and better spread the demands on our rail services. And I want greater use of the train rather than the car for leisure travel.”
Fares expert Barry Doe said ScotRail fares were generally “very much cheaper” than those south of the Border.
However, he said there were too many variables to know how good a deal Mr Brown’s fares pledge would turn out to be.
He said: “Governments might change their mind or say the economic situation has changed.”
Watchdog body Passenger Focus expressed dismay at some of the fare rises for January after its research revealed last week that season ticket prices were being held down.
Chief executive Anthony Smith said:
“It’s disappointing that the restraint shown on season ticket prices has not been extended to all Off-peak and Anytime (peak) fares.
“In the current economic climate, already hard-pressed passengers who face these rises will feel the pinch.”
Mr Smith added that the 3.9 per cent across-the-board average masked higher increases.
CrossCountry’s average increase will be 5.05 per cent, but its Anytime fares from Edinburgh to Birmingham and Bristol will rise by 6.5 and 6.4 per cent respectively.
Passenger Focus also found higher-than-average ScotRail fare increases, such as Anytime tickets between Stirling and Glasgow going up by 4.3 per cent.
Mr Smith said: “The passenger going to buy their ticket on a cold January morning won’t be paying an ‘average fare’ - they will be paying a fare that may have gone up by more than that.”
A ScotRail spokesman said: “We have worked hard to keep the increase down to a level that continues to offer value for money.
“At the same time, our approach enables us to continue to invest in improvements including more and faster services and better facilities at stations and on trains.”
Mr Brown also announced more frequent Glasgow-Ayr trains from 2014, improved services to Oban, and extra commuter and Sunday trains to Aberdeen.
The minister also appeared to reverse his decision in the summer to shelve electrification of the lines to Stirling, Alloa and Dunblane as part of the £1 billion Edinburgh-Glasgow main line upgrade by 2016 being cut by one third to £650 million.
He told MSPs these other lines would be electrified by 2019, but insisted such parts of the project “had never been dropped”.