The Scottish Government announced rail fares would rise by 3.8 per cent in January across peak, off-peak and season tickets – the largest increase in nearly a decade.
The increase comes ahead of the Government taking control of ScotRail from Dutch firm Abellio in March.
Answering a question from Scottish Labour’s Neil Bibby in Holyrood on Tuesday, transport minister Graeme Dey said demands for fare freezes would lead to unmeetable costs in the Budget.
He said: “I can assure members the decision was not taken at all lightly.
"Significant analysis was carried out both by ScotRail and by Transport Scotland to look at various options for rail fares.
"The cost of delivering rail services must be met at a time when passenger numbers remain well below pre-Covid levels and fiscal prudence makes and inflation rates make fare increases unfortunately necessary.
"Now I hear calls from others about fare freezes or offering free travel to entice people back to rail. Unfortunately none of these suggestions come up with any recommendations on how to fund them."
Mr Bibby pressed Mr Dey on why fares were being increased in the middle of both a cost-of-living and climate crisis.
He also highlighted the months-long industrial dispute with railway workers and unions, saying Scotland’s railways “face a leadership crisis under this transport minister”.
Mr Dey responded by claiming a fare freeze or raising fares below the RPI inflation rate would have cost between £6.5m and £9.1m and “could not be taken forward” due to that impact “recurring annually in future years”.
He said: “We have to make sure that rail fares are affordable for the taxpayer as well as passengers.
"We need to have a rail service that is financially sustainable and, whilst the Government covers the majority of the cost of rail passenger services, rail fares do have to contribute to overall funding.
"I recognise the point about trying to encourage people back onto the rail as part of tackling the climate emergency. It is an important one, but we also have to make rail sustainable, from a financial perspective as well, and we are in a difficult situation at the moment.”