Train tickets: What the fare increase means and how to limit the impact

Rail passengers in England and Wales face the biggest fare increase in 11 years from Sunday 5 March.

The government has raised so-called “regulated” ticket prices by 5.9 percent – and says it’s protecting passengers from the full effects of inflation. But the surge comes just days after figures showed record levels of unreliability at the railroad. What does this mean for travelers – and how can you save money?

These are the most important questions and answers.

A snapshot of what the increases mean?

Rush hour journeys on routes such as Manchester to Leeds and Bristol to Cardiff will increase by over £1 each way.

Passengers on the major Winchester to London Waterloo commuter line pay an additional £2.50.

The outrageously expensive 14 minute, 24 mile jump between Swindon and Didcot Parkway goes from £28 to a staggering £29.70.

And a season pass between Brighton and London increases by over £300 to over £5,600.

These are all “regulated” fares controlled by the government. In this context, “regulated” includes a range of fares that you can buy at any ticket office just a few minutes before you start your journey: season tickets, journeys to and from larger cities and long-distance side-traffic fares.

What about tariffs that are not regulated?

Many of these have risen by around the same amount – for example the Manchester to London Anytime fare has risen by over £10 to £195.60. But crucially, there is no across-the-board increase in Advance fares, as these are priced at what train companies believe is the right level to generate the most revenue.

These are becoming increasingly popular, especially since they can often be bought on a smartphone just a few minutes before departure.

In Scotland, fares are frozen until at least the end of March – with an upcoming six-month experiment in which peak fares will be scrapped and everyone, including commuters, will have to pay less to travel during rush hour.

How can you save on the train?

1 The more flexible you are with the time of day, the less you pay. Between Birmingham and Derby, for example, there are tons of £9 one-way tickets – but only for off-peak services when the price is usually doubled.

2 Railcards can save the cost of £30 on a single long journey by saving a third of the cost – and you can get them if you’re under 31 or over 59, and in between the ‘Two Together’ and “Family and Friends” his help.

3 Take advantage of anomalies in the fare system by splitting tickets. Between London Paddington and Bristol Temple Meads, for example, you can legally and easily save money with the “Didcot Dodge” – buy a ticket to Oxfordshire station and another from there.

Splitting tickets while the train is at the station is a great way to save money. There are many apps that offer savings – and LNER, which connects London King’s Cross with Yorkshire, the North East of England and Scotland, actually does the splitting for you when you use its app.

What are the government – and transport activists – saying about the surge?

Ministers say they are being generous to passengers. The annual increase in fares is traditionally linked to last July’s retail price index. Last year that was 12.3 percent, so the government chose to use the 5.9 percent figure for average wage growth instead.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said it was “the biggest government intervention on fares ever” and that he struck “a fair balance between the passengers who use our trains and the taxpayers who help pay for them”.

But independent watchdog Transport Focus says its research shows that less than half of passengers think the train currently offers good-value tickets.

A report this week by the Office for Rail and Roads showed a record number of train cancellations, and that doesn’t even take into account the impact of months of rail union strikes over disputes over jobs, wages and working arrangements, which have been making life difficult for millions of rail passengers.

Where do we stand with the rail strikes?

The next round of walkouts by RMT union members will begin on March 16, with further breaks on March 18, 30 and April 1. The RMT believes that employees are entitled to a non-binding salary increase.

The government says it has made its best and last offer, which is conditional on sweeping changes to long-standing labor agreements. It was not put to a referendum but was rejected after a consultation of the RMT’s 40,000 members.

Ministers and employers believe the RMT leadership is increasingly out of step with members after many months of strikes and expect a significant number of workers to ignore the call for strikes.

What about London bus and tube fares?

The increase is around 5.9 percent, just like the national railway. Single tube fares are up by 10p to 30p and bus fares are up 10p to £1.75 – although this allows for multiple journeys within the hour.

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