TRANSPORT union RMT renewed its call for Scotland’s rail services to be taken back into public ownership as commuters and other passengers faced fare rises yesterday.

ScotRail fares increased by an average of 3.2 per cent, with peak tickets going up by 3.6 per cent.

The union pointed out the rise – the biggest in five years – comes at a time when earnings are falling in real terms.

Its members will leaflet passengers at several stations today to highlight the case for public ownership.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said that while revenues for ScotRail operator Abellio would increase, rail travel is “becoming increasingly unaffordable for many”. He added it was necessary to “bring a permanent end to the damaging fragmentation and privatisation of our railways”.

Scottish Labour also contrasted the fare increases with a fall in earnings.

Figures from the Scottish Parliament information centre show salaries fell by 1.6 per cent last year when inflation is taken into account.

Real-terms pay has increased by 1.8 per cent since January 2013, but regulated fares have increased 12.7 per cent over the same period.

Labour MSP Colin Smyth said: “The SNP seem to think passengers in Scotland are getting a fair deal. They’re not. Passengers in this country already pay some of the highest fares in western Europe and now ticket prices are going up again.

“Rail fares have increased faster than wages over the last five years and that is unacceptable, particularly given the ongoing delays, cancellations and overcrowding rail users experience with ScotRail.

“Scottish Labour would take ScotRail back into public ownership and deliver a people’s railway that puts passengers first.”

A Transport Scotland spokeswoman said: “Scotland’s rail fares increase is lower than inflation and lower than the average increase across the UK.

“We are currently undertaking a review of the national transport strategy, which will consider our long-term approach to ensuring the affordability of transport across Scotland. We want to see more people take the train and we recognise that this means prices have to be affordable and fair.

“Steps are being taken to ensure that a public-sector operator is able to bid for a future rail contract, and that there is a public sector body able to do so. We secured the right for a public-sector operator to bid for the franchise, despite repeatedly being denied by successive Labour and Conservative governments.”

Down south, Westminster Transport Secretary Chris Grayling came under fire for being in Qatar as the fare increases took effect.

Labour shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald claimed the timing of the two-day visit, where Grayling is due to meet members of the Gulf state’s government and business leaders, “smacks of a man running scared”. Union leader Cash said passengers forking out more for train travel will “draw their own conclusions” from Grayling’s decision to take a “trip to the Qatari sunshine”.

Speaking to a UK radio station from Qatar, Grayling denied leaving the country to dodge the row, insisting it was “important that during parliamentary recess ministers go to other countries where there are business opportunities”.

“This increase was announced a month ago, and I’ve done radio interviews about it and answered questions in the House of Commons, so I don’t think I’ve shirked the issue.”