RAIL fare price hikes have been slammed by Highland passengers and politicians after it emerged a new season ticket between Dingwall and Inverness will set back passengers up to £1620.
The figure comes amid a rise in average rail ticket prices of 3.4 per cent across the UK – the largest increase for five years.
And the new pricing also comes just weeks after it emerged that passenger numbers on the Far North and Kyle railway lines had fallen year-on-year.
Highlands and Islands MSP David Stewart, who is also Scottish Labour’s shadow minister for the environment, said: “I’m really concerned by this hike.
“At a time of really strict climate change targets, it’s really important that we have moral shift, in other words that people change from using their cars to using public transport.
“High rail fares discourage this. People, in my view, will vote with their feet and continue to use cars.
“This is not going to help us meet our climate change targets and it’s crucially important that we have much more reasonable rail fares that make it accessible for ordinary people otherwise, in future, we’re going to have a constant move from rail to car and that is not going to be good for our future environmental record.”
Protests have been staged at a number of UK rail stations in response to the price rises, with many commuters hit by a £100-plus rise in season ticket costs.
The demonstrators complained that many customers were “being priced out of getting to work”.
The Department for Transport (DfT) stressed the price rises were capped “in line with inflation”.
And Mark Carne, chief executive of Network Rail, said passengers would see a “huge change” in the coming year due to investment in rail networks.
“We all share the desire to try to keep fares as low as possible,” he said.
Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers union, warned people were being “priced off” the railways because wages were not keeping up with fare rises – adding that public ownership of the railways was a “necessary” step.
Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald claimed money was being “wasted on a fractured, expensive and complex system”.
Selected regulated peak fares in Scotland, including “anytime” and season tickets, are set to the level of the Retail Price Index (RPI) and one per cent below RPI for regulated off-peak fares.
A spokesman for ScotRail said: “Eighty-five per cent of our revenue comes from fares set by the Scottish Government, which decides how much our customers pay.
“We’re investing millions of pounds to build the best railway Scotland has ever had.
“The autumn and winter seasons present difficulties for the railway, and this year has been no different. Despite this, we remain the best performing large operator in the UK.
“Our brand new electric trains are due to start running this year, and our high-speed trains, which will give customers more comfortable journeys, will connect Scotland’s seven cities
“The work we’re doing will mean faster journeys, more seats and better services for our customers.”
Scotrail added that it also offered low fares alongside standard rates. Its spokesman said: “We’d point to the fact that train operators also offer low fares in competition with other modes of transport. For example, Inverness to London, next Tuesday (Jan 9) for £46.”
The new Inverness-Dingwall annual season ticket cost is £1620, and an “anytime” day single £6.60. Inverness-Nairn season tickets are £1412, and the “anytime” day single is £6.30.
No-one could be contacted at the Caledonian Sleeper.
Paul Plummer, chief executive of the trade body the Rail Delivery Group, said: “On average, fares will rise by less than inflation this year.
“Forevery pound paid in fares, 97p goes directly back to operating and improving services and, with more people travelling, that means more money for investment by the private and public partnership railway to build the better network Britain needs. Working together in partnership across the industry and with government, our long-term plan to improve will secure £85 billion of additional economic benefits while enabling further investment and improvement for customers, communities and our people.”