Five questions answered on the annual rail fare rises

Risen three times faster than average incomes since 2008.

Annual rail fare rises take effect today. We answer five questions on the annual commuter price hike.

How much have rail fares increased by?

On average, fares have increased by 4.2 per cent.

Though it varies for different rail operators, overall ticket prices have increased by 3.9 per cent in England, Wales and Scotland.

How are rail fare price rises calculated?

They are calculated using the Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure of inflation plus an additional percentage.

The additional percentage added to the RPI was reduced in October last year from 3 per cent to 1 per cent by the government making a total of about 4.2 per cent.

Any fares that go up more than the average must be balanced by others that rise by less than the average, or that fall.

How does the rise in rail fares compare with the rise of people’s income?

According to the Trades Union Congress (TUC) average train fares have risen nearly three times faster than average incomes since 2008.

Which fares have been affected the most?

London commuters using the busses, tube, trams and DLR can expect to pay 4.2 per cent more today than yesterday.

One steep rise is an unregulated return between Birmingham and London which went up by 10 per cent, although this actually only adds £2.50 to the fare.

An off-peak day return between Bristol and St Austell in Cornwall is now £75.60 - a rise of 40 per cent - from £53.10.

Although, some tickets have only risen by as little as 2.3 per cent with one ticket from Shenfield, Essex, to London now £16 cheaper, after a 0.6 per cent drop.

What have the TUC said?

Frances O'Grady, general secretary of the TUC and chairwoman of Action for Rail, told the BBC: "At a time when real wages are falling and household budgets are being squeezed, rail travellers are being forced to endure yet another year of inflation-busting fare increases.

"As well as having to shell out record amounts of money for their tickets, passengers also face the prospect of travelling on trains with fewer staff and having less access to ticket offices. They are being asked to pay much more for less."

Annual rail fare rises take effect today. Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

Photo: Getty
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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.