Around 45% of fares on National Rail are subject to regulation (by the Secretary of State in England, Welsh Minister in Wales and Scottish Ministers in Scotland); the remainder are unregulated.

Regulated fares tend to be on commuter routes, where commuters have few practical alternatives to rail. Regulated fares are set by a formula based on the RPI figure for the previous July, and for many years with a degree of flexibility (called the ‘fares basket’ or ‘flex’).

Unregulated fares generally cover journeys where passengers have realistic alternatives to travelling by train and the market for transport is open to competition.

In January 2018 fares across all operators were 20% higher in real terms than they were in January 1995; the average annual real increase has been 0.8%. Fares have increased fastest amongst long distance operators.

On 30 November 2018 the rail industry, under the auspices of the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), announced that the average fares increase for 2019 would be 3.1%. This overall figure masks differences between different routes and types of ticket.

The maximum increase for regulated fares in 2019 was 3.2%, based on the July 2018 Retail Price Index (RPI).

Passenger revenues have increased significantly since privatisation. In the years running up to privatisation, British Rail passenger revenues remained at just above £3.4 billion per year (2017-18 prices). Since privatisation, the number of rail passengers has increased substantially resulting in revenue increasing, in real terms, by close to 185% between 1994-95 and 2017-18.

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