Train firms are due to offer £1 fares under radical plans being considered by ministers to get Britons back onto the railways.
Other options are understood to include a blanket 20pc cut to off-peak tickets under industry-led “Head Out to Help Out” proposals. The plans follow the success of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme that gave the hospitality sector a shot in the arm last month.
But while ministers are mulling steep cuts to fares during less busy times, they are expected to press ahead with a standard inflationary increase to peak fares in January.
Ticket prices typically rise in the new year by the previous July’s retail prices index. This year the figure was 1.6pc, boosted by higher fuel prices.
Pegging 2021 fares to this measure will leave commuters facing stinging price rises. For example, an annual season ticket from Canterbury into London would increase by £92.
The prospect of a peak-time rise could undermine efforts to get people back on trains. Commuters are continuing to steer clear of the rail network amid fears of contracting coronavirus.
Train numbers plummeted 95pc during lockdown and have recovered only to roughly 30pc of pre-Covid levels. Plans for flexible season tickets have been shunted into the sidings by the Treasury, industry insiders said.
Treasury officials are said to be concerned that three-day season tickets could end any hope of workers returning to the office five days a week, even once a coronavirus vaccine is found. This could leave taxpayers with an even bigger bill to run the railways.
Ministers are preparing the biggest shake-up of the railways since they privatised under John Major in the 1990s. Franchising will be culled and replaced with an outsourced model.
The reforms will leave the Exchequer, rather than train companies’ finances, exposed to changes in travelling habits. Three-day season tickets would therefore squeeze public finances further.
An announcement on the future of the railways was this weekend being prepared by the Department for Transport. Industry insiders said that this could include details about a so-called “fat controller”, state-owned body that would function independently from the Department for Transport and oversee all of Britain’s railways.
A spokesman for the Department for Transport said: “We expect any rail fare rise to be the lowest in four years and any increase will go to ensuring crucial investment in our railways.
“Covid-19 has had a huge impact on how people work and travel, which is why it’s important we make sure the railways offer more convenient and better-value options for everyone.”