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Ministers face calls to freeze rail fares amid fears people will stay working from home

Ministers are facing mounting pressure to freeze rail fares to encourage commuters to return to their offices.

The annual rise in regulated rail fares, which includes commuter season tickets, is determined by the Retail Price Index measure of inflation in July.

This is due to be announced next week by the Office for National Statistics and is likely to be capped at 1 per cent, according to economists’ forecasts.

Although this would be the lowest rise for five years, season tickets for many commuters would increase by more than £50 when it takes effect in January.

An annual pass from Gloucester to Birmingham would rise by £53 to £5,385, for example.

Critics say any rise could encourage large numbers of workers to stay at home despite ministers’ pleas for them to return to the office.

Darren Shirley, chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, said: ‘Raising rail fares when people are already staying away from the railway will further damage the economy and the environment at a time when we need to be investing in a green, sustainable transport-led recovery.

‘The Government should hold fares at the current level and prioritise the introduction of flexible season tickets for the millions of people who will be working and commuting part-time in January.’

Department for Transport figures show that car use has nearly returned to pre-pandemic levels, but rail travel is below a third of what it was.

Bruce Williamson, of campaign group Railfuture, criticised the decision to raise fares while fuel duty has been frozen since March 2011.

He said: ‘We want to encourage environmentally-friendly transport, not encourage people into their cars.’

The UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments regulate rises for around half of train fares, including season tickets on most commuter routes and tickets for travel around major cities.

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