LABOUR has demanded the Scottish Government axes any planned rail fare hike next year – warning it would be “wildly reckless” as living costs soar.

The party has pointed to earning figures published in 2020 which show that median wages have risen by 34 per cent since the SNP came to power in 2007 – but rail fares have increased by 54% in the same period.

The statistics do not take into account the impact of the pandemic on wages.

Labour has warned that if any 2022 fare increase goes ahead, it will take the total rail fare rises since 2007 to 62%.

READ MORE: ScotRail passengers face fresh services disruption as engineering workers vote for strike action

The party has claimed fares could rise by 3.8% in January, a move that would be the biggest annual increase in a decade.

Scottish Labour’s transport spokesperson, Neil Bibby has called on ministers to rule out any further fare increase amid rising fuel bills and inflation and cuts to Universal Credit.

At last week’s First Minister’s Questions, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar warned Scots were facing a “cost of living crisis”.

Mr Bibby said: “It is staggering that the SNP are set to impose the biggest fare hike in a decade as the cost-of-living crisis bites.

HeraldScotland: Scottish Labour transport spokesperson, Neil BibbyScottish Labour transport spokesperson, Neil Bibby

“For years now they’ve let fares spiral out of control, while wages lag far behind.

“It is wildly reckless to raise fares again while so many households are struggling to make ends meet.”

The Scottish Government is set to take the ScotRail franchise under public ownership in March, but the SNP-Greens administration has not set out a fares strategy.

Before May's election, the Scottish Greens pledged to introduce a railcard for all Scots designed to encourage people to take the train rather than drive by reducing the cost of off-peak journeys by a third.

In January last year, the Greens called on the SNP Government to reconsider annual rail fares rising - pointing to delays, cancellations and overcrowding on ScotRail services.

The deal struck between the two parties in government pledges that a review of fares will take place.

READ MORE: New Scottish railcard among Greens pledge to cut cost of off-peak tickets by a third

Scottish Greens transport spokesperson Mark Ruskell said: “The Scottish Greens are committed to lowering the price of public transport and ultimately making it free at the point of use, which is why our cooperation agreement commits the Scottish Government to a wide-ranging fair fares review.”

A spokesperson for Transport Minister Graeme Dey claimed that “Labour’s position of rail lacks any credibility”.

They added: “If they want more routes, more stations and lower fares they need to be honest with people and explain how this would be paid for especially when the cost of running Scotland’s railway has already increased by nearly £500 million as a result of the pandemic.

“The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that rail fares are affordable for people in Scotland. We will consider the announcement on the July RPI figure while looking at options for future fares, and as part of wider work to create a fully operational and functioning rail network post the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The Scottish Government hopes to decarbonise Scotland’s rail by 2035 – with the Programme for Government pledging to “make it more competitive with road and encourage modal shift for passengers and freight”.

Speaking at the official opening of Glasgow Queen Street station after redevelopment today, the First Minister stressed that “Scotland’s railway is well on track in its journey towards full decarbonisatrion of passenger services”.

HeraldScotland: Nicola SturgeonNicola Sturgeon

She added: “Since 2007, we have invested over £9 billion in rail infrastructure, including electrification to enable greener trains to run on those routes.

“We are committed to continued electrification, and the use of alternative traction technology, if we are to address the challenges facing this planet. Scotland, as a responsible global citizen, will do everything we can to play our part.”

But outside the station, about two dozen trade unionists gathered to call on the First Minister to intervene in potential service cuts and “save” Scotrail, making so much noise during speeches to staff, including Ms Sturgeon, that a piper was deployed to drown them out.

Following the release of an internal Scotrail report, by Professor Iain Docherty, which suggested a permanent 10% cut to services – which unions say could cost up to 1,000 jobs – workers have threatened further industrial action, including ensuring no trains run during the watershed climate conference due to in Glasgow in a few weeks.

Speaking outside the station, Michael Hogg, the Scotland regional organiser for RMT, said: “We have an opportunity as a result of Cop26 – we’re taking lawful industrial action, we will make sure that no trains will run during Cop26.

“(What an) embarrassment that will be for the Scottish and UK Government, where the eyes of the world will be on Glasgow – this is a great opportunity for the Scottish Government to intervene and save Scotland’s railway and bring closure to the current dispute and give equality to the majority of workers within Scotland’s railway.”

READ MORE: COP26: Rail strike during summit would be ‘humiliation’

Mr Bibby has warned that “if we are serious about building a green transport system”, SNP and Green ministers “need to put a stop to rip-off rail fares”.

The ScotRail franchise has been criticised over plans to cut 300 trains a day compared to before the pandemic, with passenger levels not expected to return to pre-Covid levels.

The franchise is currently facing a string of industrial disputes which has led to services essentially not running on Sundays.

Mr Bibby added: “The SNP have failed passengers and rail workers time and time again, refusing to oppose cuts to services or stand up for fair pay and condition. They must take a different approach this time.

“The SNP must show us that a publicly owned ScotRail will mean more than just a fresh coat of paint for Scotland’s trains.”

Pressed over the continuing industrial action, Ms Sturgeon told Radio Clyde that she was hopeful the row could be resolved before the COP26 global climate conference, taking place in Glasgow in November.

She said: “I hope we can get that dispute resolved and I hope we can get that resolved ahead of COP – not just for the reasons of COP, but for the reason that we don’t want disruption on our railways on Sundays or any day of the week.

“I know partiers are keen to continue talks, to get back round the table and I would strongly encourage both sides in this dispute to get round the table and find a resolution that is in the interests of those who work in our railways who work hard at all times, and worked particularly hard to keep the country moving during the pandemic – but fundamentally, that is in the interests of the travelling public as well.”