Saturday 23 February 2019

Train fares

Train operators call for fare shakeup

Tap-in, tap-out rail fares could be expanded beyond London if a group of train operators gets its way. The Rail Delivery Group has set out a wish-list of reforms for the industry and it wants the UK and devolved governments to support them. Another suggestion is removing the sudden change between peak and off-peak fares, to reduce overcrowding.

The lobby group said almost 20,000 people made submissions on how they would like the UK railways improved. Transport Focus, the independent passenger watchdog which also worked on the consultation, said UK train operators currently offered an "outdated and outmoded fares and ticketing system". Feedback from commuters found eight out of 10 want the fares system overhauled and nine out of 10 want smart or electronic tickets, with the potential for price capping.

The Rail Delivery Group said reforms would support tap-in, tap-out fares, a pay-as-you-go method used in London, and more integration with other modes of transport. In London, tube and rail commuters can use contactless bank cards to automatically pay fares which are calculated based on where a passenger enters and exits the network.

Reform would mean updating regulations around peak and off-peak travel, Rail Delivery Group said, and ticket prices could be set more flexibly. This would reduce overcrowding, it said. Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, said customers have different needs and want changes that offer value and better reflect changing work habits. Rail companies are already working together on plans for real world trials so people can see what our proposals could mean for them".

Mr Plummer said rail companies needed the government to change rules on how train fares are charged. "Current regulation needs to be updated and we want to work with government, which is key to making improvements a reality, to deliver the better fares system the public wants to see." The government is currently undertaking the Rail Review which is covering everything from commercial contracts to rail fare structures. Its consultation closes at the end of May. The Rail Delivery Group said its ideas could be rolled out, train operator by train operator, in as little as three years.

Darren Shirley, chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, said the existing system is "broken and desperately needs fixing. We're particularly pleased to see proposals for more flexible commuter tickets to reflect modern work patterns, something we've long called for, and for nationwide smart ticketing. What's not clear however, is if these proposals will also lead to an end to the annual fares rise, which fails to reflect the level of service passengers receive the previous year. It is now up to the Government to take forward these proposals to ensure we have a fares system that is fairer and easier to use."

Another proposal is to stop passengers having to buy split tickets to get the cheapest fares for some journeys.