UPDATE 1-Italy antitrust watchdog asks Trenitalia, NTV about Christmas fare hikes

(Adds NTV comment)

ROME, Dec 16 (Reuters) - Italy’s antitrust authority said on Wednesday it had asked the country’s two main rail operators Trenitalia and NTV to provide information about “significant” increases in ticket prices over the Christmas holidays.

The watchdog said it had noted an increase in the companies’ fares in the period from Dec. 15 to Jan. 15.

Earlier this month, the government banned movement between the country’s 20 regions over the Christmas and New Year festivities to curb coronavirus infections, allowing citizens to travel only before Dec. 21 and after Jan. 6.

Trenitalia and NTV have three days, starting from Tuesday, to let the authority know the criteria they used in setting their fares, the regulator added.

Trenitalia, the passenger arm of state-owned Ferrovie dello Stato, had no immediate comment.

Privately-owned NTV said it had always acted in full compliance with existing regulations but also pointed to the difficult environment it was operating in as a result of the ongoing health emergency.

The company said it was forced to reduce its operations during the second wave of infections to 8 daily services from the end of October compared with 112 in the pre-COVID phase.

NTV said it was trying to increase the number of trains running over the holiday period while adhering to regulations to contain the spread of the virus that limit occupancy rates to 50%.

The company did not give any details in its statement on its pricing rules as requested by the watchdog but is expected to provide the information in the coming days. (Reporting by Francesca Piscioneri, additional reporting by Agnieszka Flak. Editing by Jane Merriman)