Shake-up of rail fares system could improve journeys

Thu, February 21st, 2019

Proposed shake-up of rail fares system - Rail Delivery Group

  • Biggest ever rail fares consultation found 84% of respondents in the North West want the system overhauled
  • Proposals to government to update rail fares regulations could transform journeys in the North West by paving the way for tickets allowing travel across trains, buses and trams using one ‘tap-in, tap-out’ pay-as-you-go fare
  • Proposals would enable local political leaders to have greater control over local fares in devolved areas
  • With a new system, the North West commuters who work flexibly could see savings, while overcrowding on some of the busiest long-distance trains could be significantly reduced
  • Proposals represent industry’s first contribution to the Williams Review with a call for preparatory work to begin now, including government, industry and passenger groups reviewing regulation as well as a series of real-world trials to support a rolling programme of reform across Britain over the next three to five years

Journeys for rail travellers in the North West could get much easier under proposals from the rail industry to overhaul the country’s fares system.

The radical published by the rail industry have been informed by the biggest ever public consultation into what people want from rail fares with nearly 20,000 people across Britain, including almost 1,900 in the North West, taking part. The consultation, delivered in partnership with independent passenger watchdog Transport Focus, found that 84% of respondents in the North West want the current system changed, with people united in wanting a fairer, more transparent and easier to use experience.

Having listened to the public, Britain’s rail companies are publishing the ‘Easier Fares for All’ proposals to explain how updates to outdated regulation would enable the transparent, simpler to understand fares system people want. The proposals meet a commitment made by the rail industry when launching its consultation to bring forward proposals that are revenue neutral, meaning no change in average fares or taxpayer support. They are built with a simple proposition at their core: that customers only pay for what they need and are always charged the best value fare.

This would be enabled by the fares system moving to a ‘single-leg’ structure, as currently operates within London, so that customers are able to choose the most appropriate ticket for each leg of their journey in a way they are unable to today.

Reforming fares in this way could ensure the railway delivers more for regional and local economies, by:

  • helping local political leaders to have more control over their transport systems, where relevant powers are devolved, enabling them to co-ordinate train fares alongside other local transport. This is difficult now even where those powers are already devolved because rail-only fares are set under different national rules to local travel schemes.
  • enabling local reform where control of pricing has been devolved, helping with the rollout of pay-as-you-go systems or providing Transport for the North and the Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor, Steve Rotheram, the opportunity to package up fares in a different way more suited to local passengers.
  • offering greater flexibility for people in the North West who do business in other cities through more and cheaper ‘advance fares’ for long distance travel, sold on the day. This builds on the work the rail industry is already doing to make advance purchasing available up to 10 minutes before travel on many routes.

If accepted, the proposals would aid the roll out of ‘tap-in, tap-out’ pay as you go fares in cities across the country. This means thousands of commuters who travel into the North West could benefit from the kind of price capping system currently available for journeys within London, which operates under different regulation to the rest of the country.

A price cap would see fares keeping pace with how people buy tickets and travel today. Commuters who currently buy season tickets could save money when they travel fewer than five days a week or are able to travel off peak, supporting changes in working patterns, with part time working and self-employment having increased by over a third in the last two decades. 90% of consultation respondents in the North West wanted consideration (definitely or maybe) of price capping.

Reforming the fares system could also reduce overcrowding on the busiest long-distance services. 80% of respondents in the North West wanted consideration of fares that encouraged empty seats to be filled. Updating regulations around peak and off-peak intercity travel would mean ticket prices could be set more flexibly, spreading demand on long distance journeys for a better customer experience for leisure travellers. This would be supported by a wider range of on the day fares.

A reformed fares system would also help make the most of technology like online accounts, smartcards and smartphones to make ticket buying simpler, so that customers are shown fares which match their needs while screening out irrelevant choices that cause confusion.

If the proposals are developed and adopted, they could enable the rail industry to offer a ‘best fare guarantee’, so that customers could be confident that they are always paying the lowest fare available where and when they buy it, which meets their needs.

Paul Plummer, Chief Executive of the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train operators and Network Rail, said:
“The result of our nationwide consultation is clear – customers have different needs and want an easy to use range of rail fares to meet them. Our proposals would deliver exactly that – creating a system that better fits how people live and work today.

"Rail companies are already working together on plans for trials so people can see what our proposals could mean for them. However, current regulation needs to be updated and we want to work with government, who are key to making improvements a reality, to deliver the better fares system the public wants to see."

Steve Rotheram, Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor, said:

“These proposals are common-sense. Fares and tickets need to work for the people, not be shrouded in mystery and bound up in outdated regulations.

“We’ve always pushed for best value fares for people in our City Region, so any proposals that would enable greater control of local pricing is something we would wholeheartedly support.

“Smart ticketing, similar to the Oyster card in London, is the key to easier rail travel – but the full benefits can only be realised if a simple fare and ticketing system sits behind it.

“Ultimately this is about what simpler, affordable rail ticketing allows. It can better link people to opportunities, helping overcome social exclusion and support improved air quality by encouraging people out of their cars.”

Anthony Smith, chief executive of independent passenger watchdog Transport Focus which led the easier fares consultation jointly with RDG said:

“Passengers want to see root and branch reform to the outdated and outmoded fares and ticketing system. Trials will provide reassurance and allow passengers to understand the impact of the changes.”

While these proposals represent the industry’s first contribution to the on-going William’s review into the future structure of rail, expected to report later this year, rail companies want to work with government now to begin the process of reforming regulation. This means working together to review the Ticketing Settlement Agreement and running a series of real-world fares trials this year. Commercial contracts would then need to be revised and agreed, starting a rolling programme of reform, which, with all parties working together, has the potential to be rolled out operator by operator across the network over the next three to five years.

The rail industry is already working together to make improvements where it can to improve the ticket buying process, within the current regulatory structure. This includes removing unhelpful jargon from over half a million tickets, making ticket machines simpler and easier to use, and making advance purchasing available up to 10 minutes before travel on many routes.

Henri Murison, Northern Powerhouse Partnership Director, said:

“Travelling around the North should be as easy and seamless as possible. As our network modernises and becomes fit for purpose through the Strategic Transport Plan, fares should be as low as possible, technology working out the cheapest options, with discounts for loyalty for those who regularly travel, including part time workers who don’t need a traditional season ticket.

“Northern have seen huge benefits from their existing piloting of smart ticketing. Greater transparency and simplicity is the next step to the final destination of capped fares within the North. Government need to remove the barriers they have put up to prevent reform to benefit passengers.”

Paul Cherpeau, CEO, Liverpool & Sefton Chambers of Commerce said:

“Having an up-to-date fares system across the UK is fundamental to improving the whole passenger experience, allowing commuters to make informed choices about the fare they pay; ensuring value for money and making the system simpler and more flexible.

“Whilst investment in new infrastructure and rolling stock is vitally important to the region it needs to be accompanied by a fares system which is fit for purpose and that is one of the reasons why we’re backing the rail industry’s proposals to reform the current system.”

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