Transport minister Graeme Dey said the rise was essential although he accepted it would be ‘unwelcome’ for travellers.
From January 24 regulated fares at both peak and off-peak times will increase by 3.8%, it was confirmed.
The amount of the rise is determined by the level of the Retail Price Index (RPI) in July – but while in previous years the cost of off-peak tickets has gone up by a lower amount, this time the increase is across the board.
The announcement comes as the rail operator ScotRail seeks to address financial challenges resulting from the Covid pandemic.
With the franchise due to be taken into public ownership in March 2022, ministers agreed to the proposal to put both peak and off-peak fares up by the same amount.
The Scottish Government has given more than £1 billion to help rail during the pandemic, including £450 million in an emergency measures agreement.
Transport minister Graeme Dey stressed the need to put rail services back on a “sustainable footing”.
He said: “For over a decade the Scottish Government has kept fares increases down by ensuring they are in line with RPI or even lower in the case of off-peak fares. Scottish rail fares remain, on average, 20% lower than across the rest of Great Britain.“We know that any increase is unwelcome for passengers, however, the changes we are implementing this year are essential to our wider recovery plans.“We challenged ScotRail to develop robust plans to increase revenue, while also seeking to identify efficiency savings that help put rail services on a sustainable footing.”
Mr Dey continued: “It is only right we implement proposals such as this increase where they make sense given the changes in passenger travel patterns.“However, we know that there is much work to be done in encouraging people back to rail if we are to achieve our net zero targets. That is why we have instructed ScotRail to identify ways to encourage increased demand at the right time, in the right place, as we continue to recover from the pandemic.”
However, Kevin Lindsay of the train drivers’ union Aslef, criticised the rise, saying: “Just at the time when we should be getting Scotland back on track, the Scottish Government has confirmed it will increase rail fares.”
Mr Lindsay, the union’s Scottish organiser, argued: “Scotland cannot meet its environmental obligations without a world-class rail service that shifts people and goods from cars and lorries on to trains.“If we are to shift people from road to rail we need to create a service that is fully staffed, with affordable fares, stations that are accessible and trains that are clean, green and attractive.”
He added: “If the Scottish Government are serious about tackling the climate crisis and supporting our economy they will halt these planned fare hikes in their tracks and end peak fares, which only act as a stealth tax on working people.”
Scottish Labour’s transport spokesman, Neil Bibby, claimed it was “wildly reckless to hit passengers with this brutal rip-off fare rise while a cost-of-living crisis rages on”.
With a similar price hike in England not coming in until March, Mr Bibby said: “Scotland’s passengers will be forced to cough up extra months before the rest of the UK because of the SNP’s decision to plough ahead with this in January.”
He said: “Slapping passengers with the biggest hike in a decade months before ScotRail is taken into public hands is an utterly shameful start.
“If the SNP are happy to let fares spiral and routes be decimated, then their takeover will mean little more than a fresh coat of paint.”